Zodiac signs are back: Research design practice with a bonus ethics question

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On the first day of class, I give my students a few get-to-know-each-other questions to discuss in small groups. While they discuss, I visit the groups and invite them to ask any questions they may have about me. This semester during one such small group visit I had a student ask me for my zodiac sign. I said, “Scorpio. But you know that doesn’t mean anything, right?” She looked at me as if I were the naïve one. In retrospect, I could have handled that better. “Why do you ask?” “Do you believe that the time of year we’re born is the sole determinant of personality? Our genes and experiences don’t matter at all?” In any case, I didn’t think any more about it.

And then two days ago (April 4, 2023), Google announced that their Waze app is adding a zodiac mode (Waze, 2023).

And this month, Waze is tapping into the all-knowing cosmos to find out if you navigate like a Saggitarius or a Scorpio, thanks to the latest driving experience: Zodiac.

Drive with a vehicle and Mood outfitted for your sign and embody your true colors on the road. Our navigation guide is well-versed in astrology and knows how to get all types of personalities to their final destination — whether you're a fiery Aries, a balanced Libra, an independent Aquarius, an ambitious Taurus, a spontaneous Gemini, an intuitive Cancer, a detail-oriented Virgo, an intense Capricorn, a whimsical Pisces, a dramatic Leo, a free-spirited Sagitttarius or a loyal Scorpio. She does it with love, life advice and a little teasing.

The first thing I did was roll my eyes. The second thing I did was uninstall Waze. You would think that as a Scorpio I’d be more loyal than that.

When we lived in the Seattle area, Waze was my go-to navigation app. Now that we live where there is much less traffic, I don’t need help getting around traffic jams so I haven’t used Waze in two years. I admit that haven’t kept up with Waze’s fun features.

I just reinstalled Waze to see how zodiac mode works. Unfortunately—and to my great disappointment—zodiac mode has not rolled out to my phone, yet. There are, however, several other ways for me to “customize my drive.” If I select zombie mode, the driving directions are delivered in a zombie voice—or rather, what someone imagines a zombie voice would sound like, the car icon I see is decaying green, and the icon that appears to other drivers is a stitched up gray blob. That helps me envision a bit what zodiac mode might look like. Just like the 70s/80s/90s mode or the cat/dog mode, I suppose zodiac mode is meant to be a new, fun, quirky way to get to and from wherever you need to be.

While there probably aren’t many people who believe in zombies, a Pew Research Center survey found that 29% of U.S. adults believe in astrology (Gecewicz, 2018). You can assume that about a third of your students hold such a belief. Among college graduates however, the survey found that the number that believed in astrology dropped to 22% (Gecewicz, 2018). I credit the personality chapter in the Intro Psych course for that decrease. Ok. I don’t know that. It’s an empirical question, though, for someone looking for a research project.

If you’d like to give your students some research practice in the personality chapter, point out that about a third of people in the U.S. believe that zodiac signs affect personality. Zodiac signs, however, were not included in our textbook’s personality chapter as a contributing factor. How could we find out if one’s zodiac sign affects personality? Give students a couple of minutes to think about this question on their own, and then ask them to discuss in small groups.

The research designs will likely include some measuring of personality traits. The biggest challenge here may be finding two astrological experts who agree on the characteristics each sign is supposed to have. As another variable, students may suggest asking study participants for their sign. It’s possible that asking outright for a zodiac sign may prime the potentially one-third of participants who believe in the zodiac to skew their personality answers. There are at least two ways around this: ask for birthday and determine zodiac sign yourself or ask for the zodiac sign at the very end after all of the personality questions have been answered. Asking for birthday is probably safest as some volunteers may not know their zodiac sign. Also point out that birthdays don’t have meaning in some cultures, so members of those cultural groups don’t know the date of their birth. When a birthday is needed, they may use January 1. A good question for students to consider is how they could ask if a participant knows their birth date.

If time allows, consider asking this question about ethics that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Do we each have a responsibility to share and only share factually correct information? If we know what we’re sharing is false or suspect that it might be, do we have a responsibility to say so? As a professor of psychology, I certainly have an ethical responsibility to share evidence-based information about psychology. If the evidence is lacking, then I need to make it clear that the evidence is lacking. Does a producer or film company have a responsibility to depict accurately how drugs work, how memory works, how psychological disorders work? Especially given how many people learn about these topics through media? When a tech company uses the zodiac to make commuting more fun, are they promoting—whether intentionally or unintentionally—belief in the stars having an impact on personality?

 

References

Gecewicz, C. (2018, October 1). ‘New Age’ beliefs common among both religious and nonreligious Americans. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/01/new-age-beliefs-common-among-both-religious-and-non...

Waze. (2023, April 4). Customize your next drive and tap into the zodiac with Waze. Google. https://blog.google/waze/customize-your-next-drive-and-tap-into-the-zodiac-with-waze/

 

 

 

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.