Horoscope Syndrome

Posted By Debbie on November 29, 2011

Let’s say you’re browsing an online dating site. You’re reading a profile where a person who looks attractive to you is describing what he or she wants. Let’s say that description looking something like this:

    I’m looking for someone who is intelligent, honest, warm, affectionate, and fun. You should have a good sense of humour, and like music. Being outdoors is nice too, like for walks or visits to the beach or mountains. I’m also looking for someone attractive with a good job.

Your natural reaction is likely to be, “Wow! That person is describing ME! I am all of those things!” I call this the Horoscope Syndrome because it’s like reading a newspaper horoscope, and being sure it’s amazing accurate when in reality, it’s amazingly general. Monty Python did a GREAT job bringing this into my consciousness when I first saw this sketch when I was 12 in 1984. Among other craziness in this sketch, a housewife reads a horoscope that basically says she is a scary lizard monster biting rocks and trees, living in the tropics, and wearing spectacles. Her response is, “Very good about the spectacles!” The other housewife says, “Amazing!”

Horoscope Syndrome is where people naturally want to associate positive qualities or scenarios with themselves, even if they don’t possess them. As someone active on dating websites, I recently ran into the online dating profile for an ex-boyfriend. Wow, he sure sounded great by his own description! I happened to know that none of it was true. But that’s how he sees himself because he lacks the self-awareness and/or honesty to see himself any other way.

Let’s say the dating profile read more like this:

    I’m looking for someone with above-average intelligence, preferably someone who graduated college in the usual 4 years. My sense of humour is mostly Monty Python and Eddie Izzard. I don’t like humour based in pranks or bodily functions. My fave music is 80s New Wave, and I dislike formulaic pop songs. When outdoors, I like to hike among cactus in the Arizona desert. My idea of attractive is a guy who’s about 5′ 10″ who looks Middle Eastern, Caucasian Semitic, Mediterranean, Indian, or African-American. He’s probably a musician, comedian, entrepreneur, or computer geek.

Doesn’t sound so much like you now, does it. And if it does, I’m single; please contact me. 🙂 My point is that the vague nature of the first description, whether on purpose or on accident, makes people self-identify as being the person described. You’re sure that’s talking about you! Get a little more specific, and oh, this isn’t about me.

It’s important to consider how people self-identify when doing UX/UI projects. Sometimes, you have to treat your audience like who they think they are rather than who you think they are. Be careful of Horoscope Syndrome!