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NIMHANS review finds association of belief in astrology with cognitive, personality and psychological factors

Further research on the condition along with its psychosocial determinants is necessary for the development of preventative and curative intervention efforts, researchers say

September 10, 2022 10:16 pm | Updated 11:28 pm IST - Bengaluru

A review of available literature in journals by researchers from NIMHANS has revealed the association of belief in astrology and fortune-telling with cognitive, personality, and psychological factors such as thinking style, self-concept verification, and stress.

The review article titled “Fixating on the future: An overview of increased astrology use” has recently been published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry.

“We had a case wherein a 35-year-old person got into a habit of consulting astrologers online as he was going through a bad phase of life. He not only suffered financial losses but also went into severe depression when his situation did not improve. But he still had an urge to consult other astrologers, further causing psychological issues. This prompted us to study more such cases,” said Manoj Kumar Sharma, additional professor, SHUT (Service for Healthy use of Technology) clinic at NIMHANS. He is the corresponding author of the review article.

101 papers

Following this, a team of four psychologists reviewed 101 available research papers in peer-reviewed journals online and found that there was an association between mental health issues with the obsessive use of astrology.

“Case studies on “fortune-telling addiction” have conceptualised it as a possible behavioural addiction and have reported symptoms such as distress, cravings, and salience. We found only one case report where belief in astrology has been documented as addiction. However, further research on the condition along with its psychosocial determinants is necessary for the development of preventative and curative intervention efforts,” Dr. Sharma told The Hindu on Saturday.

COVID factor

Pointing out that interest in astrology has surged recently, possibly due to the uncertain conditions in the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Sharma said: “Our team comprising research scholar Abhilasha Das, Associate Professor Himani Kashyap and Clinical Psychologist Srijita Gupta found that Google Trends reported that searches for “birth chart” and “astrology” hit a five-year high in 2020 after the pandemic. We also found that 18 start-ups have launched astrology apps in India and many of these apps have seen growth at the rate of 40–400%.”

While belief in astrology is common and socially legitimised in many cultures, a few instances of excessive engagement with astrological services or “fortune-telling addiction” are indicating a risk of adverse mental health consequences, he said.

“To understand the existing research base on correlates of belief in astrology and fortune-telling, we carried out a scoping review to synthesise the available literature base on belief in astrology and to review the evidence for “fortune-telling addiction” using Arksey and O’Malley’s methodological framework. Databases of PubMed, ProQuest, EBSCO, and SCOPUS were searched for relevant studies published in peer-reviewed journals,” he explained.

Implications

“On the basis of case studies, it can be hypothesised that individuals who struggle with increased astrology use will develop a dependence on the fortune teller and find it difficult to utilise critical thinking skills in problem-solving. They may rely excessively on astrologers or horoscopes for making significant decisions, possibly leading to increased anxiety about coping with unexpected situations on their own. Substantial financial losses may be incurred by the service users due to repeatedly paying charges for consultations,” the article stated.

“Because these individuals tend not to seek psychological help, the emotional difficulties underlying the increased astrology use may worsen. Distressed people may go undiagnosed and be untreated due to their persistent preoccupation with finding a solution through astrology,” the article stated.

Recommendations

“Using the existing research base of correlates of belief in astrology as the starting point, research on the psychological, cognitive, and social factors that cause vulnerability to increased astrology use is needed. Future research is also needed to determine the extent of harm that can be caused by increased astrology use and fortune-telling services on the individual as well as the society at large,” the article recommended.

Besides, long-term effects on cognition and personality variables need to be studied as well, it stated. Further research is needed to better understand the prevalence of co-morbid diseases in these situations, the relationship with other psychiatric disorders and addictions, the article pointed out.

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