03/27/2015 11:37 EDT | Updated 03/27/2015 11:59 EDT

Will Believing In Astrology Actually Do Anything For You?

Set of Astrological Zodiac Symbols. Horoscope Signs. Modern Flat Design.
brickrena via Getty Images
Set of Astrological Zodiac Symbols. Horoscope Signs. Modern Flat Design.

Spring has sprung, and with it, a chance for renewal for many of us. Much like at New Year's, people set new goals, and even look to outside influences to help them make decisions. And for some people, that means looking to their favourite horoscope section.

Humans have wondered why those burning balls of compressed gas have looked back at us since we first appeared on earth, notes It’s no surprise that we’ve tried to make sense of them, using stars to do everything from map our location on earth to predict our future.

The study of stars has changed over centuries of research and observation. But many people still look to them for guidance in their daily lives, as the ancients did. Carly McWilliams, a 20-year-old Guelph resident, first looked into horoscopes for the reason many people do: love.

“I was dating boys all born in the same month and I wanted to know why,” says McWilliams, whose sign is Cancer. “I wanted to know the compatibility between the two signs.”

McWilliams is one of the 25 per cent of Canadians who believe their horoscope can help explain the seemingly inexplicable, according to a 2005 Gallup poll. And this industry continues to expand in the 21st century.

Now the one in four people in the western world who want to look into it can use apps like the Daily Horoscope, Free Horoscope, My Horoscope Free or one of 1,400 other options from their mobile device. YouTube personalities like Alyssa Sharp, who relates astrology to everything from sex to girl crushes, provide an entertaining explanation of the stars’ predictive powers.

Having horoscopes and chart readings readily available allows people like McWilliams to even plan events based on her chart.

“I was getting my hair done and the moon [was] in Scorpio. That’s a really transformative energy," she says. "So I’m transforming my hair and it’s making a positive influence."

Despite their popularity, there’s no evidence the patterns of the stars have any influence on the lives of human beings. Research has found that any apparent success that comes from using horoscopes and astrology to determine life events is no more than chance.

In different parts of the world, many communities continue to rely on astrology to make decisions for everything from choosing a wedding date to when to have a baby to even mapping out their futures. For example, Jyotisha, the traditional Indian system of astrology, is practiced all over the world, notes the Encyclopedia Britannica. And in Chinese astrology, the zodiac signs in particular are relied upon to plan life events around the Chinese (or Lunar) New Year.

There have been many studies since the 1950s on astrology, but scientists have only recently been able to analyze them all. After looking at 40 controlled studies, research in the Journal of Consciousness Studies found there was no link between astrology and human behaviour — except for one. Astrologers couldn’t perform better than chance at predicting someone’s personality, but their listening ability might make them good counsellors.

But Martin Houde, an astrophysicist who studies the formation of stars at Western University, is far from surprised by studies like these. While people can be affected by gravitational pull of the sun, moon and earth, stars are too far away to make any impact, he says.

“There’s absolutely no way the position of a star or group of stars in the sky could have any impact on anything at any given time,” Houde says.

Shannon Hicks, a masters student studying the physics of the earth’s atmosphere, is part of the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada London Centre. She points out the stars are governed by physics, just like everything else.

“There can be no connection between our daily life and how physics works,” Hicks says, “other than if I walk too fast on a slippery slope on the ice, I’m going to fall because I slip.”

The only link between astrology and astronomy is their history, explains Western University professor Stanimir Metchev. People like Nicolaus Copernicus and Sir Isaac Newton believed there was a connection between religion and the stars, and it influenced a lot of their groundbreaking work. But since that time, they have become completely separate.

“It’s a matter of non-science, astrology, vs. science, astronomy,” Metchev said. “The odds of a horoscope being correct are the same as flipping a coin.”

McWilliams knows astrology can be unbelievable to some, but she still feels its presence in her daily life. She can’t deny it makes her happy.

“I’ve attuned my life to it. It’s very beneficial. You just feel that you’re happier because really in your chart you can see the things that make you happy,” McWilliams says. “It’s a study of knowing yourself.”

And scientists like Hicks aren’t going to deny McWilliams something that gives her pleasure.

“Sometimes it’s fun to look at it and see just for kicks,” Hicks said. “[but] take everything with a grain of salt.”

*This article was originally published in the Western Report.


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