Normally, we look to astrology when we're seeking clarity on our lives — it's a lens through which we can experience and, potentially, process the changes and events that come our way. But what if, instead of a pair of glasses with 20/20 vision, astrology functioned more like tinted sunglasses, ever so slightly warping how we view ourselves and the world?
In a nutshell, the study tested whether people born under “positive” Zodiac signs (Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, and Aquarius — aka all fire and air signs) were more extroverted while people born under “negative” signs (Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn, and Pisces — all the earth and water signs) were more introverted. Dr. van Rooij's results suggested as much — but only among people who already had some knowledge about their sign, implying that learning about your sign may affect how you perceive yourself.
Make what you will of the suggestion that fire and air signs are more extroverted while earth and water signs are more introverted (we'd argue that the extent of someone's extroversion is a little more nuanced than that), but this characterization is generally accepted in the astro community, with obvious exceptions — let's never forget that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is a supposedly introverted Taurus. Besides, what really caught our eye was the fact that this pattern emerged only among people who had "astrological knowledge."
According to Matt Lundquist, LCSW, a psychotherapist based in New York City, this finding is actually a (very niche) example of a psychological phenomenon known as stereotype threat. This term is used to describe someone's anxieties around potentially playing into preexisting, negative stereotypes about their racial identity, sexual identity, or other aspect of themselves. "There are certain stereotypes which are not inherently or universally true, but simply by virtue of their existence — by a shared belief in those stereotypes among a group of people — they become true," Lundquist explains. "They become a sort of self-fulfilling phenomenon."
In other words, learning that your sign is thought to behave a certain way may lead you to emulate those traits. Lundquist admits that this is "much less consequential" when your behavior confirms astrological tropes and not, say, racist misconceptions others may have, but it's the same dynamic at play.
"One of the places we see this as therapists is with a parent who insists, for example, that the oldest girl is such a great caretaker or the youngest boy is really naughty," Lundquist explains, adding that these characterizations can have emotional repercussions. "In the case of positively perceived traits, a young person responds with pride and works to fulfill the promise of that attribute. In the case of negative traits the young person may feel things are hopeless."
So, if someone tells you, "You're a Pisces, which means you're probably an introvert," and you already identify as a Pisces, you may feel uncomfortable acting against that description. You might not try as hard to get to know people at parties or you might be reluctant to share your opinion if it differs from the group's. Meanwhile, being reminded that your Leo identity makes you especially magnetic could boost your confidence when you're starting a new job or going on a date. "How others characterize us can become a part of our personality," Lundquist sums up.
If you're concerned that certain aspects of your behavior are a product of what you've read or heard about your sign, don't sweat it. Unless you're acting like a complete jerk and using the fact that you're an Aries to justify your actions, it's probably not a big deal. And looking up your birth chart will quickly remind you that no one is meant to perfectly fit the mold of one Zodiac sign.