Subjective validation

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Subjective validation, sometimes called personal validation effect, is a cognitive bias by which people will consider a statement or another piece of information to be correct if it has any personal meaning or significance to them.[1] People whose opinion is affected by subjective validation will perceive two unrelated events (i.e., a coincidence) to be related because their personal beliefs demand that they be related. Closely related to the Forer effect, subjective validation is an important element in cold reading. It is considered to be the main reason behind most reports of paranormal phenomena.[2] According to Bob Carroll, psychologist Ray Hyman is considered to be the foremost expert on subjective validation and cold reading.[3]

The term subjective validation first appeared in the 1980 book The Psychology of the Psychic by David F. Marks and Richard Kammann.[4]

Subjective validation describes the tendency of people to believe or accept an idea or statement if it presents to them in a personal and positive way.[5] An example of subjective validation can be found in horoscopes, which often make vague, easily generalized personal statements, sometimes referred to as "Barnum statements", designed to apply to nearly any individual,[6] such as: "You have a great deal of unused capacity, which you have not turned to your advantage." This can cause one to attribute future success to the horoscope and feel as if their belief in it has been validated. In essence, subjective validation is a confirmation bias towards information that personally benefits one's self-esteem.

Many of the validations that are given are not necessarily because they are true about recipients but because people wish it was true about themselves;[7] people tend to think of themselves in terms of values that are important to them, even if they don't show those values. They tend to believe they do, and they tend to believe it the more they hear it and read it about themselves.

This effect can be seen when it comes to health. For example, if someone enjoys eating bacon and they were to come across an article that talks about how healthy bacon is healthy, they will tend to believe it more because this "validates" eating more bacon.[8]


One test was performed by Michael Gauquelin, a French astrologer. He offered people free horoscopes to anyone that read Ici Paris on the condition that they provided feedback on how accurately the horoscope related to them. He sent out thousands of the same horoscope to people with various astrological signs. Ninety-four percent of the readers responded that his readers were "very accurate and insightful."[6][9]  What the people did not know was that the horoscope was for Dr. Petiot, a convicted serial killer of 63 people. This is clearly another case of subjective validation where subjects focus on the relatable nature of some general analysis that's supposed to be unique to them.[6]

Another test is the Bertram R. Forer personality test. Forer would give his students a personality test and regardless of his students' answers he would give them all the same personality results and ask them how well the personality result described them on a scale of 0–5, the average score was 4.26. This test has been repeated many times and the average is still around 4.2.[10][7]

Personality tests, even with science backing them up, have subjective validations. Take the sixteen personalities test[11] as a great example. When people first get to the home page, they can see quotes from all these people saying how accurate it is, and how it describes them perfectly. Having looked at a lot of results, one can see that they are vague enough that they can apply to many people. People can find out a lot about themselves from these tests, but they are still an example of subjective validation, in which that people find what they seek. To learn more about the personality tests click here at the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Forer, B.R. (1949) "The Fallacy of Personal Validation: A classroom Demonstration of Gullibility," Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 44, 118-121.
  2. ^ Cline, Austin. Flaws in Reasoning and Arguments: Subjective Validation, Seeing Patterns & Connections That Aren't Really There Archived 2007-12-13 at the Wayback Machine,, September 10, 2007. Accessed January 10, 2008.
  3. ^ Carrol, Bob. "Hope in Small Doses". Skepticality. Retrieved 2012-08-17.
  4. ^ Frazier, Kendrick (1986). Science Confronts the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 101.
  5. ^ admin. "Subjective Validation | Psychology Concepts". Retrieved 2019-12-07.
  6. ^ a b c "Astrology and Horoscopes Uncloaked". Relatively Interesting. 2019-10-09. Retrieved 2019-12-07.
  7. ^ a b Carroll, Robert Todd (2012-05-07). "Unnatural Acts that can improve your thinking: subjective validation". Unnatural Acts that can improve your thinking. Retrieved 2019-12-07.
  8. ^ "Subjective Validation definition | Psychology Glossary |". Retrieved 2019-12-07.
  9. ^ McGrew, John H. (1990). "A Scientific Inquiry Into the Validity of Astrology" (PDF). Journal of Scientific Exploration. 4: 75–83.[unreliable source?]
  10. ^ "What's the Forer effect?". HowStuffWorks. 2015-03-20. Retrieved 2019-12-07.
  11. ^ "Free personality test, type descriptions, relationship and career advice | 16Personalities". Retrieved 2019-12-07.

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