For Issue 11 of Loupe, we wanted to take a hands-on approach to exploring alternative beliefs. As the magazines editor, I volunteered to undertake tarot, astrology and palmistry readings. I steered each reading to cover health, personality and career: looking for correlations and contradictions between what was predicted. Select quotes from each reading are displayed in Issue 11, accompanied by still lives created by Lucy Bliszko, illustrating how these traditional practices have been updated for the digital age and adapted to the additional demands of lockdown.
Thankfully, the psychology of beliefs, often defined as ‘superstitions’, has been extensively studied by those much more qualified than us, and it’s been interesting to reflect on my own experience in relation to this research. Experiments conducted into astrology have not produced favourable findings. Aylssa Jane Wyaman ran an experiment in 2010 that showed subjects struggling to identify their own personalised charts from other people’s charts. However people do still believe in astrology and with enough conviction to undertake repeat readings, even basing major life decisions on the results, and it’s interesting to consider why this might be.
I noticed that each of my readings were overwhelmingly positive and complementary about my personality – it’s undoubtedly bad for repeat business to give a negative reading based on personality flaws. In a test conducted by Peter Glick in 1989, sceptics of astrology were more inclined to agree that a reading was accurate when it was positive (a generic one masked as being personalised) compared to a group given negative readings. In fact, in the first group they recorded a significantly greater belief in astrology at the end of the experiment than at the beginning. Locus of control has also been shown to be influential in superstitious belief. Seeking out a reading could be seen as an attempt to gain control, having a reading may give guidance on what to do, to act on and give a sense of personal control over your life. Ideas of control may have impacted my initial bias against both the palmistry and the astrology: the lines on my hand and the date of my birth are very much out of my control. Whereas with the tarot the remote nature of the reading was disappointing, I did not having the ability to physically pull the cards myself. If I had been able to, would I have felt a greater sense of validity in the reading?
Reflecting on my readings there are inaccuracies , but these tend to go unnoticed or forgotten. However, in my tarot reading I was advised to make sure I finish any course of medicine, or antibiotics. A few weeks later I was prescribed antibiotics. It doesn’t matter if not everything in a reading connects, they can still impress. This is due to what psychologist Paul Mehl called the ‘P.T Barnum effect’. Readings can be vague and broad in their statements but by the claim that they are tailored specifically for an individual, that person is more inclined to believe the statements relate to them. Why the P.T. Barnum label? The famous showman is the originator of the quote ‘there is a sucker born every minute’. An experiment has shown that when 2 groups are given the same ‘personalised’ reading from an astrologist (actually everyone was given the same) those who were asked for more personal information up front e.g. time of birth in addition to location perceived the same generic reading to be more accurate.
The P.T Barnum effect works in conjunction with our minds’ inclination to highlight coincidences and look for correlations. In his book The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking Matthew Hutson states that ‘Coincidences draw our attention and stick in our memories. Non-coincidences happen all around us all the time, and we either don’t notice them or don’t remember.’
In my tarot reading the letter E was emphasised stating that someone with that initial would be important in my career. This immediately jumped out, during lockdown I had been given a photography job out of the blue by a picture editor named Elizabeth. However, when listening back to the reading much more emphasis was put on the name ‘Mandy’, which currently does not have a professional significance to me and I had not held on to that information.
Would it be dangerous to take advice from these practitioners? Or is guidance in any form a helpful way to think through life’s problems? Acting based on readings could be an issue in seeking answers for bigger questions relating to health or direction in life, dependence on psychic guidance could also become expensive. However, within reason harnessing predictions and using them productively could be beneficial. If I become more proactive in sharing my work with people named with an E and keep an eye out for influential Mandy’s that is surely better than inaction. Interestingly several of the predictions from my readings have now materialised and despite my skepticism and research into the psychology of these beliefs the power of coincidence should not be underestimated…
Loupe Issue 11
In this issue we feature photography and writing that explores belief through worship, mourning, loss of faith, superstitions and the possibility of other worlds.
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