A Billion People May Be Biased Against this Zodiac Sign

Chinese people have strong opinions about certain zodiac signs, say researchers.

Posted Nov 23, 2020

Image by Pikrepo
Source: Image by Pikrepo

In China, revealing your birthday may be the quickest way to disqualify yourself from a job opportunity. And, it has absolutely nothing to do with age discrimination.

A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that Chinese hiring managers discriminate on the basis of astrological signs. Furthermore, it appears that they are especially prejudiced against Virgos.

“Anecdotally, in China, there are personality stereotypes associated with the astrological signs,” state the authors of the study, led by Jackson Lu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “In particular, some people intentionally avoid Virgos (those born between August 23 and September 22) as friends, romantic partners, or employees, purportedly because Virgos (literally translated as “virgin” in Chinese) are stereotyped as having disagreeable personalities.”

While disagreeable personalities may well make for more problematic employees, it's a real stretch to assume that one's birthday has any reliable connection with their personality traits, good or bad.

To test whether this anecdotal evidence was reflective of reality, the scientists recruited 351 Chinese human resources professionals from twenty-four different industries to participate in a short experiment. In the experiment, the researchers asked the hiring managers to review one of four resumes and to indicate their willingness to hire the job applicant depicted in the resume. The resumes were identical except in two ways: the researchers systematically altered the birthday, 1995-08-25 (Virgo) versus 1995-08-20 (Leo), and the gender of the job applicant.

They found that the hiring managers expressed a greater willingness to hire the applicant when he or she was portrayed as a Leo as opposed to a Virgo. Moreover, hiring managers were no more or less likely to hire female versus male candidates.

The scientists also asked the human resources professionals how frequently astrological signs were discussed when making hiring decisions at their company. Surprisingly, they found that approximately 40 percent of hiring managers engaged in frequent discussions along these lines.

This research is important for a few reasons. For one, it identifies a discriminatory hiring practice. And, it is only through the identification of discriminatory practices that we can change them. But it also sheds light on the cultural transmission of pseudoscientific beliefs. While Western astrology has been a fixture in the United States for decades, it is a relatively new phenomenon in China. A New York Times article, for instance, speculates that Western astrology began to seep into China in the 1990s, most likely through Taiwanese variety shows. As of 2013, the phrase “astrological sign” was the fifth most popular mobile search term on Baidu, China’s most popular search engine.

To quiet the non-believers, the scientists conducted a follow-up study to refute the idea that the Virgo stereotype was perhaps grounded in reality. And, to ensure their methods were robust, they recruited a massive sample; 173,309 Chinese adults participated in the experiment. They asked participants to report their birthday and to fill out a series of personality tests that contained personality characteristics that aligned with the various astrological sign descriptions — for instance, “critical” for Virgos and “temperamental” for Geminis.

The results? A whole lot of nothing. The authors write, “Despite its large sample size, [we] found that astrological signs did not significantly predict any of the personality traits. This null result was true for both believers and nonbelievers of astrological signs. These findings provide further evidence that the astrological stereotypes [are] groundless.”

It's important to keep in mind that pseudo-scientific beliefs surrounding the nature of astrological signs are not isolated to China. False stereotypes appear in the United States as well. For instance, the same research found that Cancer, Scorpio, and Gemini were the three most disliked astrological signs among U.S. adults. While this is not a problem per se, it's a short distance from stereotype to social reality.

References

Lu, J. G., Liu, X. L., Liao, H., & Wang, L. (2020). Disentangling stereotypes from social reality: Astrological stereotypes and discrimination in China. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.