Ever wondered why people seem so easily conned by slick talkers? The answer may lie in a phenomenon known as the Barnum Effect. The Barnum effect is the name given to a type of subjective validation in which a person finds personal meaning in statements that could apply to many people.
You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. At times you have serious doubts whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.
If these statements sound like they came from a news stand astrology book, that may be because they did. Such statements are sometimes called Barnum statements and they are an effective element in the repertoire of anyone doing readings: astrologers, palm readers, psychics, H.R. Managers and so on.
When statements like this appear on things like personality inventories that people believe have been especially prepared for them alone, they often validate the accuracy of such statements and thereby give validity to the instrument used to arrive at them. If Barnum statements are validated when they have originated during a psychic reading for example, the validation is taken as also validating the psychic powers of the medium.You see the same kinds of statements and conclusions for that matter in things as diverse as economic analyses, school reports and performance evaluations.
Incidentally, "Barnum effect" is an expression that seems to have originated with psychologist Paul Meehl, in deference to circus man P. T. Barnum's reputation as a master psychological manipulator who is said to have claimed "we have something for everybody."
And that about sums it up - they are statements in which there is something for everyone.