Home Theories Forer effect (Barnum effect)

Forer effect (Barnum effect)

Reviewed by expert Scientifically proven

The Forer effect, named after psychologist Bertram Forer, is a psychological phenomenon that refers to the tendency of individuals to believe that vague and general statements about their personality or behavior are highly accurate and specific to them, even though the statements could apply to a wide range of people. The effect is also sometimes referred to as the Barnum effect, after the showman P.T. Barnum, who was known for making grandiose statements that were easily applicable to a large audience.

One common example of the Forer effect is horoscopes, which often make general predictions that could be true for anyone. Despite this, many people believe that their horoscope accurately describes their personality or predicts events in their lives. The Forer effect can also be observed in personality assessments, which may provide vague descriptions that could be interpreted as accurate by many people.

Overall, the Forer effect highlights the tendency of individuals to see themselves in vague and general statements, leading them to believe that the statements are more specific and accurate than they actually are.****

Table of contents:
  1. How Can One Use the Forer Effect?
    1. Buyer Personas
    2. Pricing
    3. Retargeting Campaigns
  2. Real-world examples of companies using the Forer Effect to personalize their products and services
  3. Analysis of how these companies use customer data to create targeted campaigns
  4. Discussion of the impact of the Forer Effect on consumer behavior
  5. Conclusion

Essentially, the Forer Effect shows that people will generally assign themselves avatars when presented with options they think defines character traits they identify with. This effect has been employed by digital companies such as Netflix, Spotify, Youtube and Facebook using the cognitive effect to better their products and make them more personalized. Personalized features within the digital products, like personally curated movie lists and specialized music playlists for each user, gives the illusion of a customized product to customers using Netflix and Spotify.

How Can One Use the Forer Effect?

Since humans already have the tendency to identify with avatars that have character traits they identify with, the Forer Effect can be employed to create audience segments through personalization campaigns that rely on user behavioural triggers or in-depth demographic data. By using 'generalities' (messaging to audience segments) to make individual customers feel like they're being interacted with on a one-to-one basis. The following are ways you can apply the Barnum Effect in your optimization program.

Buyer Personas

In building buyer personas that reflect personal choices of your audience, one should always look at the example investigated by Charles Duhigg, of how Target mined their data to build personalization campaigns for pregnant women. Target ran a series of tests before they noticed significant buying patterns of pregnant women and launched campaigns to lead them to buy products pregnant women need. This also led to an increase in retention rate due to their campaign being specific enough to send coupons timed to very specific stages of their pregnancy.


The Forer Effect is widely used by SaaS companies in creating their price plans for their product. This gives their audience the illusion that there is a price plan that specifically fits their budget and immediate needs.

Retargeting Campaigns

Retargeting campaigns are powered by audience segmentation, and this allows one to create targeted ads for a group in the audience. You can remind specific segments of your website visitors of your products and services after they leave your website without buying and this is where the Forer effect comes to life.

Real-world examples of companies using the Forer Effect to personalize their products and services

The Forer Effect is commonly used by businesses to create personalized products and services that resonate with their customers. One such example is Amazon's personalized product recommendations feature, which is based on the customer's purchase and browsing history. By analyzing this data, Amazon can suggest products that the customer is likely to purchase, increasing the likelihood of a sale. Similarly, Netflix uses the Forer Effect to create personalized content recommendations for its users, based on their viewing history and preferences.

Another example is the use of targeted marketing campaigns by companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's. These companies use data such as age, gender, location, and interests to create personalized ads that are more likely to resonate with their target audience. For example, Coca-Cola has created personalized campaigns that feature the customer's name on the bottle, while McDonald's has used data to create personalized promotions for specific locations.

Analysis of how these companies use customer data to create targeted campaigns

Companies use a variety of techniques to collect customer data, including cookies, surveys, and social media analytics. This data is then used to create targeted campaigns that are more likely to resonate with the customer. For example, a clothing company might analyze a customer's purchase history to suggest items that are similar in style or fit. Similarly, a food delivery service might use customer location data to offer personalized deals on restaurants in the area.

To create effective campaigns, companies need to analyze customer data in real-time and adjust their strategies accordingly. For example, if a customer abandons a shopping cart, the company might send them a personalized email with a discount code to encourage them to complete the purchase. By using data-driven insights to create personalized campaigns, companies can increase customer engagement and drive sales.

Discussion of the impact of the Forer Effect on consumer behavior

The Forer Effect can have a significant impact on consumer behavior, as it can create a sense of personalization and connection between the customer and the product or service. However, it can also lead to over-reliance on personalized recommendations and a lack of critical thinking when it comes to purchasing decisions.

For example, a customer might be more likely to purchase a product that is recommended to them, even if it is not the best fit for their needs. Additionally, the Forer Effect can create a false sense of understanding between the customer and the company, leading to potential privacy concerns and a lack of transparency around data collection.

Overall, while the Forer Effect can be a powerful tool for businesses to create personalized products and services, it is important for customers to be aware of its potential impact on their behavior and decision-making.


In conclusion, the Forer Effect is a psychological phenomenon that explains how people tend to accept vague and general statements about their personality and behavior as accurate, even when they are not tailored to them specifically. Companies have been using this effect to their advantage by personalizing their products and services through data analysis and targeted campaigns. The Forer Effect is particularly useful in building customer loyalty and trust, as it makes consumers feel understood and valued.

However, it is important to note that the Forer Effect can also have negative consequences on consumer behavior, as people may base important decisions on inaccurate and unverified information about themselves. It is therefore essential for companies to use the Forer Effect ethically and responsibly, by providing personalized recommendations and insights that are backed up by reliable data and research.

Overall, the Forer Effect is a powerful tool that can help companies better understand and connect with their customers. By leveraging this effect in a thoughtful and strategic way, businesses can improve their marketing strategies, increase customer engagement, and ultimately drive growth and success.

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Example of hypothesis applied

  1. Based on research that suggests that people are more likely to trust personalized recommendations, we believe that displaying a message that says "Recommended for you" on the homepage of our webshop (change) for returning customers (population) will increase their likelihood of making a purchase (impact).

  2. Based on the observation that people tend to feel validated when their opinions are sought after, we believe that including a survey on our website that asks for customers' feedback on our products and services (change) for first-time visitors (population) will make them more likely to engage with our brand (impact).

  3. Based on research that suggests that people are more likely to engage with content that is presented as "exclusive" or "limited time offer," we believe that displaying a banner that says "Limited time offer" or "Exclusive deal" (change) for visitors who have previously abandoned their shopping cart (population) will increase their likelihood of completing the purchase (impact).


Would you like to go more in-depth? Here are our recommendations:

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg Buy this book

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Forer Effect?

The tendency for people to accept vague and general personality descriptions as accurate and personal.

How does the Forer Effect work?

It relies on people's desire for validation and their ability to interpret information in a way that confirms their preconceptions.

Is the Forer Effect real?

Yes, it has been demonstrated in numerous studies and has been replicated in various contexts.

Why is the Forer Effect important?

It highlights the human tendency to seek validation and can be used to understand how people make judgments and decisions.

How can I avoid the Forer Effect?

Be aware of the tendency to accept vague descriptions as accurate and try to evaluate information objectively.

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