Full disclosure: I checked my horoscope before I even got my kids out of bed this morning. Even though I'm a skeptic, I feel like it centers my day in a strange way. But why? Why are horoscopes so comforting — and popular? There must be a reason beyond habit, right?
The practice of astrology is thousands of years old. In contrast to religion, astrology is more of a metaphysical study of celestial objects to understand events. However, like religion, astrology — and specifically the horoscope — taps into a person's desire for a supernatural or otherworldly control over a sometimes irrational and disordered reality. For moms like me, tasked with taking care of all the things all the time, having that little, otherworldly blurb tell me there's something to look forward to today other than my child's tantrum is somewhat of an escape. Dr. Douglas Moll, Psy.D tells Romper that the faith that we have in our horoscopes and the comfort we derive from them has a lot to do with how horoscopes are written. "They make fairly vague statements that can apply to many or most people much of the time," he says. Because of that, he says, "People who read their horoscope come to believe that it is advice that applies specifically to them, and they come to trust it."
Psychoanalyst Galit Atlas, Ph.D. wrote in The New York Times that it's not only comfort that people derive from reading their horoscopes, but they might truly shape the way we see our day. She explained that while horoscopes "provide the illusion that our lives are patterned, not a series of random events," these predictions can alter our perception and modify brain activity toward those expectations. Moll agrees, telling Romper, "Because we always live in uncertain times, it is comforting to be able to turn to something every day that we have come to trust."
There's also a placebo effect at work with horoscopes, Moll notes. "Horoscopes, in general, tend to be on the positive side and can give us good advice, even if we don’t believe in the validity of astrology," he says. If my horoscope says I'm going to have good interactions with my family, I feel pretty peppy. I'm not so worried about the PTA parents who I know are going to tell me that I'm not volunteering enough hours, because I believe I'm going to have a good day regardless.
Beyond the placebo effect, recent research published in the Review of General Psychology noted that what people choose to believe in helps regulate their interaction with the world and provides direction. Reading a horoscope, going to mass, or religiously meditating all provide the practitioner with a feeling of guidance and provides purpose. In turn, feeling a sense of purpose makes people happier, and there's something to be said for that.
Whether you're a true believer, an absolute skeptic, or you fall somewhere in between, you've likely at least glanced once or twice at your horoscope. If it was good news, you probably got a little bit of a rush from the hope — and that's not a bad thing. Feeling crabby? Well, your sun might be in Scorpio, today. I'm not sure. You'll have to check.
Dr. Douglas Moll, Psy.D, licensed psychologist