Author: Esther Lee
Editor: Simona Hausleitner
“What’s your zodiac sign?”
It’s a question everyone hears at least once in their lifetime, but not everyone understands the true scientific significance behind zodiac signs.
At its most basic level, people reference zodiac signs as a fun way of “getting to know'' a person. As seen by the picture on the right, zodiac signs are determined by the day and month you were born, and supposedly, based on your sign, you possess certain characteristics and personality traits. It’s a fun conversation-starter, apparently interesting enough to build a whole TV show out of with “Your Daily Horoscope” on Quibi being centered around characters based on these zodiac signs.
But that’s not where the science comes in. As much as it pains me to tell you this, zodiac signs have absolutely no bearing on personality, at least nothing that has been proven through scientific processes. In fact, in the Psychology of Astrology, students from the Trinity University of Asia reported that when 50 individuals were given a questionnaire about their personalities, only 5 got their right zodiac sign, 17 got the wrong sign, and 28 got inconclusive results because they qualified for more than 1 sign.
So here’s where the science comes in.
First of all, why do people believe that zodiac signs accurately depict their personalities when, as shown by the aforementioned experiment, zodiac signs and personality have little to no correlation? The answer is the Barnum effect, the psychological tendency of people to believe that certain information, like the characteristics given to zodiac signs, is tailored to themselves when the information is actually incredibly vague. When you first read your zodiac sign’s personality traits, you might think that they seem scarily accurate. However, if you read through every single personality trait ascribed to each zodiac sign in the above picture, you could probably think of an instance where at least one from each applied to you.
Beyond the psychology behind zodiac signs, the signs themselves provide meaningful scientific information. For starters, a zodiac is the term used to describe the area of the sky approximately 8 degrees above the ecliptic (the sun's apparent path throughout a year as shown on the left). That zodiac was then divided into 12 parts (first by the Babylonians at the end of the 5th century BC), each approximately 30 degrees of celestial longitude, by the constellations: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. This twelve part division created a celestial coordinate system, becoming the main method for defining celestial positions until the Renaissance, which introduced the equatorial coordinate system.
Even though zodiac signs aren’t considered the main frame of reference in astronomy, they can still be used to track the orbit and wobble of the Earth. If you didn’t know, the Earth actually wobbles around its axis due to the gravitational attraction of the moon on Earth's equatorial bulge. This wobble has caused a 36 degree shift along the ecliptic. For astronomists, this kind of information is incredibly valuable and worth taking note of.
While most people would probably never be aware of this change in the Earth’s orbit, the zodiac signs, which have been scorned by many scientists as a baseless fad for their commentary on personality, can actually be used as a modernized and popular language to educate people on these ‘astronomical’ changes. Because of people’s interests in what their zodiac signs are, they can stay updated on these shifts by tracking changes to the qualifications for each zodiac sign as the latest change has been recorded as approximately a month’s shift. For example, Capricorn, which in the first picture was denoted as December 23rd to January 21st is now from January 20th to February 16th.
The world of astronomy is still a great unknown, and honestly, it can feel like an overwhelming amount of information.
Sure, zodiac signs, from a scientific standpoint, seem to be extremely useless and baseless, but there are two notable takeaways from zodiac signs. The first is that zodiac signs, although their characterizations of people are scientifically unsound, create a memorable language and method of communication from scientists to the masses by adding an element of entertainment. Secondly, people derive happiness from conversations about zodiac signs. Sometimes, conversations and points of interest don’t have to be based in science. Human communication and socializing is incredibly important, and if talking about zodiac signs is something that puts a smile on people’s faces and keeps the world of astronomy present in people’s lives, I’d say zodiac signs are worth keeping around.
So, next time you’re looking for a conversation-starter, consider asking about that person’s zodiac sign. Use it as an avenue to talk about something you learned from this blog post and maybe you’ll find that you have a lot in common with them, or maybe you’ll spark someone’s interest in psychology and astronomy.
Astrology is the belief that the positioning of the stars and planets affects the way that events occur on Earth. It should not be confused with Astronomy, which is the science that studies everything outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The increase of the radius of a planet or star from its poles to its equator, caused by the object's rotation.
Azucena, Aaron. “Psychology of Astrology (The Relationship between Zodiac Signs and the Personality of an Individual.” Academia.edu, www.academia.edu/22318941/Psychology_of_Astrology_The_relationship_between_zodiac_signs_and_the_personality_of_an_individual.
Beck, Story by Julie. “Why Are Millennials So Into Astrology?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 12 Feb. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/01/the-new-age-of-astrology/550034/#:~:text=A%20quick%20primer%3A%20Astrology%20is,sign%20actually%20correlates%20to%20personality.&text=Astrology%20ascribes%20meaning%20to%20the,the%20signs%20of%20the%20zodiac.
Braganca, Pedro. “Astrology: Why Your Zodiac Sign and Horoscope Are Wrong.” LiveScience, Purch, 21 Sept. 2017, www.livescience.com/4667-astrological-sign.html.
"equatorial bulge." American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company 18 Feb. 2021 https://www.thefreedictionary.com/equatorial+bulge
“What Is the Zodiac?” EarthSky, https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/what-is-the-zodiac#:~:text=The%20zodiac%20signs%2C%20derived%20from,honored%20place%20in%20astronomy%2C%20too.
“What's the Difference between Astronomy and Astrology?: American Astronomical Society.” Homepage, https://aas.org/faq/whats-difference-between-astronomy-and-astrology#:~:text=Astronomy%20is%20a%20science%20that,relationships%20of%20those%20celestial%20bodies.&text=Astrology%2C%20on%20the%20other%20hand,way%20events%20occur%20on%20earth.