What is Subjective Validation?

Human beings are naturally inclined to seek validation and confirmation of their beliefs, experiences, and perceptions. Subjective validation is a psychological phenomenon that explains our tendency to interpret vague or general information as specifically relevant to ourselves. It is often associated with various cognitive biases, such as the Barnum effect and the confirmation bias. This article aims to explore the concept of subjective validation, its underlying mechanisms, and its implications in different aspects of life.

Defining Subjective Validation

Subjective validation, also known as the personal validation effect, refers to a cognitive bias where individuals tend to perceive a statement or piece of information as accurate if it holds personal meaning or significance to them. When influenced by subjective validation, people may see a connection between two unrelated events (such as a coincidence) because their personal beliefs compel them to find a relationship. This bias closely resembles the Forer effect and plays a crucial role in cold reading techniques. It is often cited as the primary explanation for the majority of reported paranormal phenomena. According to Bob Carroll, psychologist Ray Hyman is widely regarded as the leading authority on cold reading.

Subjective validation refers to the tendency of individuals to embrace or endorse an idea or statement when it is presented to them in a personal and positive manner. A classic illustration of subjective validation can be observed in horoscopes, where generalized and vague statements known as “Barnum statements” are employed to apply to almost anyone. For instance, a statement like “You possess an untapped potential that you haven’t utilized yet” can lead individuals to attribute their future accomplishments to the horoscope, thus validating their belief in it. Subjective validation represents a confirmation bias towards information that enhances one’s self-esteem.

Many of the validations provided to individuals are not necessarily based on their actual truth but rather on people’s desire for those validations to be true about themselves. People tend to perceive themselves in terms of values that hold personal importance to them, even if they don’t outwardly exhibit those values. They believe they possess those values, and their belief strengthens when they repeatedly encounter affirmations and descriptions of those values associated with themselves.

This effect is observable in the context of health as well. For instance, if someone has a fondness for bacon and comes across an article suggesting that bacon has health benefits, they are more inclined to believe it because it serves as a “validation” for indulging in more bacon consumption.


Mechanisms Behind Subjective Validation

Several psychological mechanisms contribute to the occurrence of subjective validation. Understanding these mechanisms can shed light on why we are prone to accepting generic statements as highly personal and accurate.

1. Confirmation Bias

Subjective validation is closely related to confirmation bias, which is the tendency to seek out information that confirms our preexisting beliefs and ignore or downplay evidence that contradicts them. When presented with a statement that aligns with our self-perception or beliefs, we are more likely to accept it as accurate and relevant to us.

2. Self-Serving Bias

Self-serving bias refers to our tendency to interpret information and events in a way that enhances our self-esteem and protects our self-image. Subjective validation often occurs because the statements presented to us are flattering or positive, reinforcing our positive self-perception and leading us to believe that they must be true.

3. Cold Reading Techniques

Subjective validation is also frequently observed in the context of cold reading, a technique used by some psychics, astrologers, and fortune tellers to give personalized readings to individuals without any prior knowledge of them. By using vague and general statements that could apply to almost anyone, these practitioners exploit subjective validation to create the illusion of accuracy and personal insight.

Implications of Subjective Validation

Subjective validation has various implications in different areas of life, including psychology, marketing, and interpersonal relationships. Here are some key areas where subjective validation plays a significant role:

1. Psychological Vulnerability

Individuals who are experiencing emotional distress or seeking guidance are particularly vulnerable to subjective validation. When they encounter someone who appears to provide accurate insights about their personality or situation, they may develop a deep trust in that person’s abilities, even if the information is general and applicable to many others as well. This vulnerability can lead to dependence on psychics, astrologers, or other individuals who claim to possess unique knowledge about their lives.

2. Marketing and Advertising

Subjective validation is often utilized in marketing and advertising strategies to influence consumer behavior. By tailoring messages that resonate with individuals’ self-perceptions, marketers can create a sense of personal relevance and convince consumers that a particular product or service is specially designed for them. This approach can enhance brand loyalty and increase sales.

3. Interpersonal Relationships

Subjective validation can also impact interpersonal relationships. When someone provides validation and affirmation of our beliefs, experiences, or opinions, we are more likely to bond with them and feel understood. This can strengthen social connections and create a sense of belonging. However, it is crucial to recognize that subjective validation in relationships should be balanced with critical thinking and open-mindedness to avoid creating echo chambers or reinforcing unhealthy patterns.


Overcoming Subjective Validation

While subjective validation is a natural cognitive tendency, it is essential to be aware of its influence and take steps to mitigate its effects. Here are some strategies to overcome subjective validation:

1. Critical Thinking

Cultivating critical thinking skills can help us evaluate information objectively and avoid falling into the trap of subjective validation. By questioning the source, evidence, and logical coherence of statements, we can reduce the impact of cognitive biases and make more rational judgments.

2. Seeking Diverse Perspectives

Actively seeking out diverse perspectives and engaging in conversations with people with different beliefs or opinions can broaden our understanding of the world. Exposure to a variety of viewpoints challenges our preconceived notions and reduces the likelihood of accepting generic statements as highly personal.

3. Self-Awareness

Developing self-awareness is crucial in recognizing our own biases and vulnerabilities. By understanding our own tendencies towards subjective validation, we can be more vigilant and critically evaluate the information we encounter. Regular self-reflection and introspection can aid in the development of self-awareness.


Subjective validation is a powerful psychological phenomenon that highlights our tendency to accept general statements as highly accurate and personally meaningful. Understanding the mechanisms behind subjective validation, such as confirmation bias, self-serving bias, and cold reading techniques, can provide insights into why we are prone to this cognitive bias. Subjective validation has implications in psychology, marketing, and interpersonal relationships. By being aware of subjective validation and employing strategies like critical thinking, seeking diverse perspectives, and fostering self-awareness, we can navigate this cognitive bias more effectively and make more informed judgments. Ultimately, embracing a more critical and balanced approach to validation can lead to a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.