The Barnum Effect and paranormal investigating

The Barnum effect is a phenomena where people interpret a generalised phrase or general information as being specific to them. This can not only apply to a psychic reading, but often occurs during paranormal investigations as well. People often unknowingly connect dots to make something relevant to them when in reality, it isn't.
Sarah Chumacero
12th June 2019.
Stuff paranormal investigators need to know, General.
290 page views.

sThe Barnum effect is a phenomena where people interpret a generalised phrase or general information as being specific to them. This can not only apply to a psychic reading, but often occurs during paranormal investigations as well. People often unknowingly connect dots to make something relevant to them when in reality, it isn't.

Who was PT Barnum

I am sure by now you have heard this name. If not from history, through the recent movie 'The Greatest Showman'. A lot of people have argued that the way he was represented in the movie was quite misleading. He wasn't quite the hero that the film wanted you to believe he was. Starting with a traveling museum of oddities which included a woman he promoted as being 161 years old (who in reality was a slave he purchased for $1000) is an indication of his character. He eventually went on to create 'The Greatest Show on Earth' which was a showcase of what was labeled as what is commonly referred to as 'Circus Freaks'. He made quite a lot of money and his circus was a big success. He was responsible for flipping entertainment on it's head in the 19th century. Due to his success and the way in which he made his money, a lot of people attribute the the phrase 'A sucker is born every minute' to P.T Barnum. He is said to have coined this phrase, but we don't know for sure that he really did. It was this behaviour and reputation that the name 'The Barnum Effect' stems from. When you look at the reputation that spirtualist mediums had during the same era, it is no wonder this connection has been made. Mediums were quite famous back in that era for faking their abilities in order to make money. It is where the term Charlatan is commonly used (a person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill).

What is the Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a psychological phenomena where a person believes that a general statement is in fact tailored specifically towards them. Phrases which are written a certain way that are quite general and could apply to anyone are used and each person that hears them relates to it in their own specific way and feels it was just for them. They are often used by psychic mediums and other readers, and these phrases are referred to as Barnum Statements.

The Barnum Effect and Psychic Readings

I will say some not all because there are some genuine people out there, but some psychics, astrologists, magicians and the like use the Barnum Effect to make their paying clients think that they are receiving a highly specific and tailor made reading when in fact it is just a general phrase that they know a person will think is specific to them . Such statements are referred to as a 'Barnum Statement'. Here are some examples from Derren Brown who is a mentalist that likes to show people how this phenomena works.

Barnum statement example #1
"You're somebody who tends to keep people a little bit at bay or at arms length, but when you allow people into your inner sanctum and when they become your close friends, and if they betray you then that really hurts."

This doesn't actually mean anything other than you are saying you're close to people you're close to. This could apply to almost everyone.

Barnum statement example #2

"You're a person who is prone to bouts of self-examination and have a tendency to be critical of yourself."

Which is a statement that would also apply to most people.

Barnum statement example #3

"There are times when you are the life and sole of the party and an extrovert, but at other times you tend to be introverted and quite reserved."

There are many people who would also relate to this statement too, as most people can portray two sides of a trait depending on their mood or circumstances.

In fact the above statement is what's referred to as a 'Rainbow Ruse,' see below. A Rainbow Ruse is a statement that includes both sides of a personality trait.

Barnum statement example #4

"You strive for security in your life both in your personal life and in your career."

Security or certainty is a basic need of all humans, so this statement would apply to everyone.

Barnum statement example #5

"You have a need for people to admire and like you and enjoy their recognition when you achieve certain milestones in your life."

Most, if not all, want admiration, plus it's a basic need too to be recognised for what we do. Therefore this Barnum statement would again apply to the vast majority of people.


The Barnum Effect is similar to cold reading but slightly different. While general 'Barnum Statements' might be used, the reader will also use the sitters body language, voice tone and the answers that they give to the questions to help the reading along. It is often used in conjunction with Barnum Statements which is the perfect combination to make a person feel that the reader is somehow getting all of this information through supernatural means. In reality, they are using some common brain tricks on you.

The Barnum Effect and paranormal investigating

It is really easy to get caught up in a paranormal investigation. I have admitted that this has happened to me many times to the point I have been embarrassed afterwards when I realised I got so involved or into a moment. Having the awareness is key and so is the ability to admit you got it wrong. One of the ways I often see people get 'caught up' in the moment of a paranormal investigation, is particulary when devices like an Ovilus or Spirit box and anything that produces words is used. Particulary if it is someone's first time, they are eager to attened and hope to make some kind of contact with what they believe to be the other side. In the same way that sometimes people will interpret every noise or bang to be something paranormal, people can interpret these words as if they were specifically targeted at them. These are a couple of real examples I have witnessed.

The word 'course' appears randomly on the Ovilus device. A person spoke up and said "yes I am studying a course at the moment, they must be referring to me." Another example was the word 'bread' came up. Again a person came forward and said 'I was baking bread today, they must be talking to me'. These were random words and we know that we can't rely on the words an Ovilus spits out. It had absolutely nothing to do with the conversation that was being had, and even for the most avid Ovilus user, they would have disregarded the word as it had no significance to the conversation, yet someone has taken a general word and applied it as if it was specifically spoken to them. This doesn't just happen with the Ovilus, I have seen it happen in many different ways on a paranormal investigation. People find a way to make something relevant to them. They aren't necessarily doing it on purpose, it is all part of the Barnum Effect.

There is also another element involved here as well which is called 'The Spotlight Effect'. (There are a lot of Effects in psychology). It is a where a person believes they are being noticed more than what they actually are. A perfect example would be when you walk into a room and you feel like everyone is looking at you. In reality, the likely aren't, but you feel like the spotlight is on you. Funnily enough, a lot of other people in the room will feel the same way. I see this happen a lot in paranormal investigations as well. A lot of people tend to believe that activity is focused purely around them. Again the person next to them may feel the same way. It is considered to be a reflection that we all have a bit of narcissism in us, but it is more prevalent in some than others. There are some people that tend to take over a paranormal investigation and make it all about them and they literally make themselves the center of attention.

Just being aware of the Barnum Effect is a good way to not be fooled. If you are having a reading from a psychic medium or anyone that perhaps could use this technique, don't take general statements at face value. Request specifics. There are some great readers out there that can give you specific information that there is no way they can know. This is what you should be looking for in your reading. Be aware of general statements and try to not react to the information you are being told as again they use your reactions to gauge if something is resonating with you.

When it comes to paranomral investigating, there are so many ways our mind can plays tricks on us. I pretty much dedicate this blog to giving out all of this information. In some ways it feels like we are almost at war with ourselves, but awareness is a good first step. When you are on a paranormal investigation, try not to connect dots to make things relevant to you. When you look at it from a spirit communication perspective, it isn't about you. An investigation is about the spirits, entities whatever it is we are trying to communicate with. It is about getting answers to our questions and answers for what it is we seek in investigating the paranormal.

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