Cold reading is a powerful technique that affords one person the ability to manipulate dialogue and influence how another person perceives them or the information they offer. Cold readers tend to have an exceptional understanding of human psychology and observation skills.
A cold reading normally takes place during an interactive interview process. Psychics, mentalists, magicians, palm readers, and even savvy business or salespeople use this psychological strategy as a way of obtaining personal information from another person without the person realizing that they are sharing it.
Psychologists began studying the cold reading technique in the late 1940s. In 1949, psychologist Bertram Forer published the results of his “demonstration of gullibility” study. He used one of his introductory psychology classes as the guinea pigs. He offered them a personality sketch that he had supposedly prepared prior to knowing any of them and gave them a questionnaire to determine how accurate he had been in his attempt.
Surprisingly, over 40% of the class claimed that Forer’s sketch had perfectly nailed their personality. What the students did not know was that the sketches were all the same. Each of the students accepted and applied this generalized sketch as if it defined them perfectly.
These vague personality statements became known as “Barnum Statements,” after P.T. Barnum of circus fame, whose infamous quote, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” exemplified the gullibility of Forer’s test subjects.
Within the psychic industry, the term, “cold reading,” means that a psychic is able to give a person a “reading” without any previous knowledge of the individual.
Cold readers understand that most people are more similar than they are different.
We all have problems with money, love, death, etc., and the psychic can safely assume that one of these universal things drove the client to seek out advice. If you know what to look for, a lot of information can be gained from simply observing an individual’s speech patterns, style of dress, race, age, gender, posture, etc.
Cold readings are used for a variety of psychic purposes including:
* Tarot cards
* Mediums and crystal ball gazers, fortune tellers
* Graphology, commonly known as handwriting analysis
Cold readers, especially psychics, use a basic methodology to glean information from unsuspecting clients:
* They observe the person and state the obvious to gain trust and get the person to open up.
* They use vague descriptions or observations that could apply to almost anyone.
* They offer statements that are likely to be true for most of the general public.
* They ask a lot of questions and repeat or rephrase the person’s answers.
If you’ve ever watched some of the TV psychics like John Edward or Sylvia Browne, their readings tend to follow some of these basic cold-reading guidelines.
Some additional, more complex components, that psychics use to reinforce their “paranormal” abilities, include:
* Creating an aura of authenticity by appropriately setting the stage for the reading. The client needs to be in the proper mood to readily accept and offer information. Often props, like crystal balls, personal items, or cards are used.
* Showmanship, using dramatic delivery techniques to encourage the person’s ability to believe that any information offered may have come from a mysterious or occult force. Psychics often exude a high level of confidence that leads to their credibility and, may even caution the client that the readings are not always successful, which only makes even the smallest success seem amazing.
* Extensive information gathering allows the psychic to go from general observations to asking more personal questions. Many psychics have standardized reading formats that are applicable to gender, racial, or economic concerns for specific “stereotypical” groups. Though the questions seem unobtrusive, the client will be unaware that they are divulging pertinent information in their answers.
* Reaction measurements require the psychic to pay close attention to which of the generalities they have offered that invokes a reaction within the client. The reaction can be negative or positive and can be observed in the way the client speaks, in their eyes or mouth, or through involuntary muscle movements. This allows the psychic to focus on specific areas of interest and continue “fishing” for more information by asking increasingly leading questions.
* The psychic will continually flatter the client and follow the Golden Rule of cold reading; tell them what they want to hear. Approval and acknowledgment of the client’s past and present circumstances ensure a happy ending to the session.
* At the end of the reading, the psychic will have focused on the positive reactions of the client and will appear to have offered an accurate account of the individual’s life and circumstances. The client walks away with a feeling that they have been listened to, understood, and benefited from the reading.
Much like gambling, people who have undergone a psychic cold reading will continue frequenting readers for advice, disregarding any missed “hits,” and only focusing on their resulting pay-off. This is commonly known as a Variable Ratio Schedule in the gambling world and ensures that people will continue to play, no matter how infrequent their pay-offs may be. The same phenomenon occurs in the animal kingdom, where rats and pigeons will keep pushing a lever to obtain food, whether or not each attempt is successful.
Psychic cold readings keep clients coming back for more, no matter how many “hits” the reader actually made, because the client views the reading as uncanny and amazing. The client only remembers the information that was important to them and forgets that they may have actually been the ones doing all the talking and information sharing.