Astrology: Pseudo Or Science? A Psychologist Gives Their Opinion
Is astrology a pseudoscience? Or could believers be better off than skeptics?
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | February 09, 2024
The ongoing debate surrounding astrology is a captivating intersection of ancient beliefs and modern skepticism. In a world that places great emphasis on scientific reasoning, the enduring conviction that stars and planets influence human behavior continues to captivate minds.
However, through psychological research, we are able to delve into the intricate motivations that drive astrology believers, seeking to understand why individuals ardently adhere to this age-old practice and uncover insights on how to identify them.
What Does Astrology Teach Us?
Astrology, in essence, is the study of celestial bodies' and constellations' positions and their purported impact on human affairs and natural events. The patterns of stars and planets in the night sky have long been regarded as markers influencing the astrological narrative. These cosmic configurations provide a backdrop against which the planets move, adding depth and complexity to astrological interpretations.
In astrology, the zodiac is divided into twelve distinct signs, each associated with specific constellations. These signs are further categorized into four elements, with each element linking to three zodiac signs, creating a system reflecting the fundamental qualities and energies believed to shape an individual's characteristics and destiny:
- The Fire signs. Aries, Leo, Sagittarius.
- The Earth signs. Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn.
- The Air signs. Gemini, Libra, Aquarius.
- The Water signs. Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces.
In examining the validity of astrology, it is essential to consider the interplay between evidence and theory. However, as highlighted in a study on the philosophy of science, assessing what qualifies as pseudoscience also necessitates examining individuals' behavior.
For instance, one may engage with astrology in a pseudoscientific manner by unreservedly endorsing its pronouncements on personality traits. Conversely, a scientific approach would entail subjecting astrology to rigorous experimentation to validate these claims.
Crucially, the confidence in declaring astrology a false theory is rooted in the execution of rigorous experiments. Individuals who actively engage in such experiments to scrutinize their beliefs and predictions in astrology are not deemed pseudoscientific, even if aware of existing evidence challenging its validity.
However, those who endorse astrology while disregarding opposing evidence exhibit pseudoscientific behavior. The distinction lies in the way individuals approach astrology: whether through empirical scrutiny or unqualified belief.
Why Do People Believe In Astrology?
The reasons behind the pervasive belief in astrology are multifaceted, encompassing elements of psychology, personality traits, societal influences and personal preference. Research provides illuminating perspectives on the psychological foundations of astrological beliefs, even in the face of astrology's pseudoscientific nature.
A study from Science Communication revealed the mere "ology" suffix led participants to rate astrology as more scientific, indicating potential semantic confusion. A positive correlation between the perceived scientific-ness of astronomy and astrology suggested confusion between the two terms. Knowledge about science and authoritarianism also influenced perceptions of astrology's scientific legitimacy.
Further research from Personality and Individual Differences explored the surge in astrology beliefs, finding narcissism linked to higher belief, while intelligence showed a negative correlation. This implies that astrology both attracts and reinforces individual differences.
However, not all astrology beliefs seem based on ignorance. A study from European Psychology explored astrology's role in coping with traumatic events and stressful situations. Results indicated a minor role in past traumas but a significant impact on handling acute stress. The perceived increase in self-control after taking an astrology course suggests astrology provides meaningful explanations and fosters a sense of control in stressful situations.
How To Spot An Astrological Believer
Identifying individuals who fervently embrace astrology can be achieved through a targeted questionnaire designed to gauge the extent of their beliefs. The following statements, answered by rating one's agreement to each, offer insight into the depth of a person's conviction in astrology:
- Reading your horoscope is neither a superstition nor a waste of time.
- The supposed negative influence of heavenly bodies is reasonable.
- Horoscopes can predict a person's future.
- Heavenly bodies can have a positive influence on some people.
- The success of your relationship with your partner has everything to do with your zodiac sign.
- Similarities in the way people of the same zodiac sign relate to others aren't purely coincidental.
- I like talking about subjects related to astrology.
- Knowing a person's zodiac sign is relevant.
- If I get the chance, I read my daily horoscope.
- A person's future has everything to do with their zodiac sign.
- Astrology makes it possible to predict people's futures.
- There is likely to be a relation between a person's zodiac sign and their behavior.
- The way I relate to other people depends on my zodiac sign.
- A person's mood depends on their zodiac sign.
- If you wish to understand someone's personality, their zodiac sign is of great relevance.
- It is essential that you know the zodiac sign of your partner.
- Everybody should know their zodiac sign.
- Astrology based predictions are usually right.
- The relation between a person's mood and their zodiac isn't pure fantasy.
- Nothing to do with astrology bores me.
- A person's zodiac sign determines how they behave.
- It isn't absurd to assume that heavenly bodies affect people.
- Heavenly bodies can have a negative effect on some people.
- You can predict what a person is like if you know their zodiac.
Enjoyment of astrology often stems from finding comfort, guidance and a sense of connection with the cosmos, as well as the relatability of personality traits associated with zodiac signs. Conversely, dismissal often arises due to astrology's perceived lack of empirical evidence and scientific basis, with skeptics highlighting vague and adaptable predictions applicable to a wide audience. The dichotomy between enjoyment and dismissal underscores the interplay between personal beliefs, scientific scrutiny and the human search for understanding and meaning.
Astrology's enduring allure lies in its capacity to provide a framework for understanding and navigating life's complexities. While many dismiss it as pseudoscience, the psychological factors influencing belief in astrology are intricate and varied. This multifaceted exploration serves as a bridge between ancient wisdom and contemporary psychology, allowing us to gain valuable insights into the minds of astrology believers, and shedding light on why and how they perceive celestial influences on their lives.
If you'd like to take the Belief In Astrology Inventory and receive your results, click here: Belief In Astrology Inventory
A similar version of this article can also be found on Forbes.com, here.