It’s difficult to say how many people believe in astrology, and hundreds of polls, surveys and studies have failed to produce an even vaguely consistent answer. But what we do know is that women. Why should we believe in astrology? It s good to ask this question. Pythagoras, the famous mathematician, gave us numerology. John Kepler, the great astronomer and mathematician, also made many.
Most people reading this article will have also read their horoscope at least once. Even though scientific studies have never found evidence for the claims astrologers make, some people still think astrology is scientific. We are now beginning to understand why, and people’s personalities might have something to do with it.
Astrology columns are widespread and have been around for a surprisingly long time. One of the earliest recorded columnists was 17th century astrologer William Lilly, who was reputed to have predicted the Great Fire of London, albeit 14 years too early.
One reason is because they do believe there to be some truth to it. After all, it is one of the most ancient practices on earth. However, the truth is less likely to be found in newspaper horoscopes and the like, and more to do with the much more specific and detailed works. According to a 2009 Harris poll, 26 percent of Americans believe in astrology; that’s more people than believe in witches (23 percent), but less than believe in UFOs (32 percent), Creationism. Other surveys have shown that women are more drawn to astrology than men. A 2005 Gallup poll revealed that 28% of women believe in astrology, compared to 23% of men. In Canada it's even worse.
The idea behind astrology is that stars and planets have some influence on human affairs and terrestrial events. And horoscopes are an astrologer’s foretelling of a person’s life based on the relative positions of stars and planets.
These forecasts are regularly read around the world. According to the Wellcome Trust Monitor Survey, 21% of adults in Britain read their horoscopes “often” or “fairly often”.
Undoubtedly many people read their horoscopes just for entertainment value, or as a topic for conversation. But some people attach scientific credence to astrological predictions and regard astrology as a valid way of understanding human behaviour. A surprisingly large quantity of scientific research has been carried out to evaluate the claims of astrology over the past 40 years. There is no evidence to support such claims.
It should then be a cause for concern if citizens make important life decisions based on entirely unreliable astrological predictions. For instance, people may decide for or against a potential marriage partner based on astrological sign. This happens quite often in India. Some may make rash financial decisions based on predicted good fortune.
Reassuringly, it turns out that the number of people in Britain who think that horoscopes are scientific is small. From the Wellcome Trust Monitor survey, we know that less than 10% think horoscopes are “very” or “quite” scientific. And a similar proportion thinks the same across the European Union as a whole.
However, if we ask people whether they think astrology is scientific, we see a different picture. In a Eurobarometer survey of attitudes towards science and technology, a randomly selected half of respondents were asked how scientific they thought astrology was. The other half were asked the same question about horoscopes.
The results shows a surprising disparity in opinion. More than 25% think that astrology is “very scientific” compared to only 7% for horoscopes.
In research I carried out a few years ago, I tested the hypothesis that people get confused between astrology and astronomy, and it is this that could account for widespread apparent belief in the scientific status of astrology. Even well-respected national newspapers have been known to make this mistake.
My survey also asked people how scientific they believed various activities to be. One of these was astronomy. Using a statistical technique known as regression analysis, I discovered, after adjusting for age, gender and education, that people who were particularly likely to think that astronomy was very scientific were also very likely to think the same about astrology. This points to semantic confusion about these terms among the general public.
In the same study, I was interested to look at other explanations for why some Europeans think astrology is scientific and others do not. The first explanation I looked at was people’s level of education and their knowledge about science.
If one does not have an adequate understanding, it might be difficult to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. So it turns out to be. When taking a wide range of other factors into account, those who have a university degree and who score highly on a quiz tapping scientific knowledge are less likely to think that astrology is scientific.
In line with previous studies, women are more likely than men to think astrology is scientific, regardless of their level of education and knowledge about science. Those who believe in God or a “spirit of some kind” are also more likely to find astrology a scientifically credible activity.
Take things as they are
The most interesting result, however, is based on an idea proposed more than 50 years ago by the German sociologist Theodore Adorno. In 1952, Adorno carried out a study of a Los Angeles Times astrology column. He is witheringly critical of astrology, dubbing it, with the rest of occultism, a “metaphysic of dunces”, suggesting “a climate of semi-erudition is the fertile breeding ground for astrology”.
What is particularly interesting, though, is the connection drawn between astrology with authoritarianism, fascism and modern capitalism (remember that this was in the aftermath of WWII and the Holocaust). For Adorno, astrology emphasised conformity and deference to higher authority of some kind. As some researchers put it: “Take things as they are, since you are fated for them anyway”. In short, Adorno believed that “astrological ideology” resembles “the mentality of the authoritarian personality”.
People high on authoritarianism tend to have blind allegiance to conventional beliefs about right and wrong and have high respect for acknowledged authorities. They are also those who are more favourable towards punishing those who do not subscribe to conventional thinking and aggressive towards those who think differently.
If this hypothesis is correct, then we should see that people who value conformity and obedience will be more likely to give credence to the claims of astrology. In the Eurobarometer survey, there was (by chance) a question that asked people how important they thought “obedience” was as a value that children should learn.
I used this question as a rough and ready indicator of whether a survey respondent was more or less authoritarian in their outlook. And, again, I used regression analysis to see if there was a link between people’s answers to this question and what they thought about astrology. In line with Adorno’s prediction made in 1953, people who attach high importance to obedience as a value (more authoritarian) are indeed more likely to think that astrology is scientific. This is true regardless of people’s age, education, science knowledge, gender and political and religious orientations.
So, on one hand, it seems that horoscopes and astrological predictions are, for most people, just a bit of harmless entertainment. On the other, the tendency to be credulous towards astrology is at least partially explained by what people know about science – but also what kind of personality traits they have. And these factors might prove useful in understanding beliefs about a whole range of pseudoscientific fields.
Nick Allum does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Hey ladies — the planets are aligning.
For decades, women have been the strongest consumers of astrology. Flip open popular women's magazines like Elle, Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire and you'll find delicately detailed horoscope sections, guiding women on the best times to find love, save money and achieve career success. The most famous astrologer in the world is Susan Miller, whose audience includes celebrities and the fashion world (she also has a column in Elle).
Research also shows that women actually tend to believe in astrology more than men. But why is that? Oddly enough, the answer might actually be the result of entrenched sexism.
See also: Women, You Don't Have to Be Loud to Be Good Leaders
According to psychologists H.J. Eysenck and D.K.B. Nias, astrology is defined as: “The study that deals with the connections believed to exist between the positions of the planets at the moment of someone’s birth and that person’s character, development, profession, marriage and general life history.”
Invented by the Babylonians in the second millenium B.C., according to author James H. Holden in his book A History of Horoscopic Astrology, it was practiced by literate 'wise men' of the society. Aside from identifying good and bad omens, astrology was also used to conduct exorcisms and appease various gods, Holden writes.
Today, fans of astrology use horoscopes to find out what is going to happen in their immediate life. Will they meet their soulmate soon? Can their friends be trusted? Should they buy the new iPhone?
Anyone can easily read a horoscope online, in a magazine or in a newspaper. Astrologer appointments can be arranged. Googling the phrase 'Free astrology report' surfaces more than 700,000 results.
All this, despite the fact that astrology has been largely shunned by the scientific community.
Dr. Gad Saad, a marketing professor at Concordia University and an evolutionary behavioral science expert, tells Mashable that astrology fails first and foremost because it cannot be tested. You can't prove that it works, or doesn't work.
'It’s like saying ‘It’s your destiny,’' he says in an interview. 'How do we falsify the concept of destiny?'
Modern astrology rests heavily on something called the Barnum Effect, he says. It's when people read a general statement or description that can slickly apply to their personal lives. Phrases like 'You will soon experience happiness' could technically be in your horoscope, but could also apply to millions of people.
'There would have to be a person who was given that astrological prediction who never experiences happiness forever more in their future for it to be falsified,' Dr. Saad says. 'You can’t falsify it — it's just nonsense.'
However, predictions like this appeal to humans because they show us patterns in the world. We are naturally pattern-seeking animals, Dr. Saad explains. The world is scary and complex, and anything the helps us deal with that is a welcome comfort — even if it isn't scientific.
Approximately one in four Americans believes in astrology, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center poll. This figure grew slightly over the years, as a 2013 poll from Harris Interactive of 2,250 Americans showed 29% of people believe in astrology. However, a gender divide exists — according to a 2005 Gallup poll, about 28% of women believe in astrology, compared to 23% of men.
If astrology has a universal appeal toward all people, what's with the slant toward women? Well, according to polls and scientific research, women tend to believe more in the unproven and the supernatural than men. A 2009 Gallup poll, showed women are twice as likely as men to see a fortuneteller or psychic. They also tend to be more religious.
This could be considered a side effect of a male-dominated society. Dr. Phil Zuckerman, an author and sociology professor at Pitzer College, writes in Psychology Today that since men tend to globally dominate roles associated with power and privilege, women accept the 'psychological comfort and institutional support of religion.'
For a more scientific dive, Dr. Saad speculates that, like with religion, women subscribe to astrology more because of an external locus of control.
The 'locus of control' is a psychological concept that defines how much power people have over what happens in their lives. Someone with an external locus of control would believe they don't have much control over what happens; they succumb to fate. Someone with an internal locus believes they control their own life events.
'If women on average score higher than men on external locus of control, that is likely to be the mechanism that is driving why women believe in astrology more,' Dr. Saad explains.
Though he was theorizing, research shows that women statistically tend to be more external.
'The person who has an internal locus of control would not believe this nonsense,' Dr. Saad explains. 'They wouldn’t believe something in the sky is what’s determining whether they find love, or find Fido their lost dog, or get married tomorrow.'
Blogger Nicole A. Murray writes that scientific research like this and statistical polls have paved the way for astrology to be heavily marketed toward women. For example, if you want to look at a horoscope on The Huffington Post, you have to go to the Women's Voices section.
'By placing the horoscope section squarely in the Women’s Voices section of their site, [HuffPo] is reinforcing stereotypes that women are interested in pseudoscience and woo, not hard science and experiment; candles and palm reading instead of data and hard decision making,' she writes.
Murray is not the first woman to feel unfairly targeted by the female-leaning branding of astrology, and she won't be the last. Heavy-handed marketing seems to skews toward women, despite the fact not all believe in it.
Maybe it's time to rebrand astrology. But not right now — Mercury is in retrograde.