Sunday, September 27, 2009



Nobody asked me, but…

This is going to be a three-part series on frauds who earn their living in the paranormal world by pretending to have Psychic or Medium powers. In truth, there are comparatively few people with genuine Psychic/Medium powers. Yet, it is these few genuine Psychics/Mediums that have given the world a glimpse into things far beyond reasonable and rational thinking. There are a significant number of Psychics/Mediums whose readings consistently defy any scientific explanation and boggle the minds of even the most skeptical people.

One of the reasons a lot of science-oriented people belittle or dismiss everything that appears to be paranormal is because the paranormal world abounds with frauds. People who claim to talk with the dead; people who claim to be psychic: astrologists, tarot card readers, tea leaf, palmists, etc.

In my opinion, the frauds outnumber the genuine by more than a hundred to one. Pretending to be a Psychic or a Medium can be a very good way to make a living: A man tells a so-called Medium that he would like to talk with his deceased mother and the Medium allegedly summons up his mother’s ghost and tells the man (usually) what he wants to hear. Then most Mediums charge a not-so-nominal fee which can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars for their work.

It’s interesting to note that most genuine Psychics do not make their living working as Psychics.

In order to understand what most people believe are psychic readings or communication with the dead, we must take a good look at a very fine art known as “cold reading”.

Cold reading is an art that was practiced by Gypsies in Eastern Europe using crystal balls, tea leaves and cards. As the Gypsies migrated to other countries Gypsy Fortune Tellers began to appear everywhere; usually performing their trade at carnivals and circus side shows. I mention circuses, because the fine art of cold reading is often called the “Barnum Effect”, named after P. T. Barnum: the man who created and ran the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Barnum is credited with the quip, “There’s a sucker born every minute”. The success of Gyspy Fortune Telling soon fostered the big-stage technique of professional magicians (such as William Larsen, Sr.) who billed themselves as “mentalists”.

Modern interest in the Barnum Effect among psychologists dates from Bertram Forer’s classic experiment at the University of California in 1948. A group of 39 undergraduate psychology students were given a Personality Test; supposedly as a means to explore their individual personalities. A week later every student was given a written report on what their personality test revealed. In fact, unknown to the students, they all received the same report. The students were then asked to rate the accuracy of that report on a scale of 0 (poor) to 5 (perfect). Of the 39 students, only 5 rated it below 4, and no one rated it below 2. The average rating was 4.3.

The report they were given was a cold-reading report and had nothing to do with the answers they gave to the personality test questions. As you read it, it is most likely you will feel it applies to you and describes your own personality. The report given to every student went something like this:

“You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Your sexual adjustment has presented some problems for you. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.”

That’s how cold readings work: Statements that apply to more than 90% of people are used by psychic frauds and astrologists, etc. as if these thoughts emanated from a psychic source. Note that while the report sounds specific, it really has said nothing specific about you.

Magician mentalists or fraudulent Psychics performing cold readings will often add general or semi-specific statements to try and deceive people: “There was, in childhood, a close brush with death “by you or someone close to you.” “There were trials and many changes, the loss of someone close, and an illness or “bad accident.” “You have a streak of stubbornness that is sometimes difficult to control.” There are usually forecasts of financial gain, perhaps having to do with real estate or “property changing hands.”

Or, commonly, the cold reader will tell a woman that she is making a mistake right now trying to reason her way to a decision — she should rely on her intuition and hunches: “If you do, the right course will always be presented to you, and that includes the little problem that’s puzzling you right now.” For a young man, he hears the ringing of a bell — or is it a ring “such as might be worn on the finger? I leave the answer to you.” For another woman, the cold reader sees “blue sky — or blue water?... And somewhere, far in the distance, I hear a voice calling, “Yes, I am here.” I see good fortune in your future.”

People well-practiced the cold reading techniques will also pick-up the subtle reactions of the person being read. A customer’s slight nod of the head or a raised eyebrow may tell the cold reader that he/she is on the right track or, conversely, that an earlier statement needs to be smoothed-over or covered-up. An expert cold reader can convince almost anyone not familiar with cold reading techniques that they have Psychic/Medium abilities and powers; that they are revealing facts about the customer they should have no way of knowing.

Notice how even the written cold readings presented above will fit almost everyone reading them. It’s not that everyone’s life contains the same experiences. It’s that when you remove the specifics from an experience, the general statement fits most people, and little perks and nuances observed by the cold reader tend to make the customer feel that things known only to them have appeared in the mind of a genuine Psychic/Medium.

Next week, we’ll take a close look at cold reading techniques used to convince people that the Psychic/Medium is communicating with the dead.

If you’ve had an experience with a psychic, please tell me about it at My intent is not to expose the frauds, but, rather, to show the distinct difference between the genuine Psychics and the pretenders in order to give genuine Psychics the credibility society has denied them.

As I said…nobody asked me.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I've worked with dozens of psychics, intuitives, and channelers over the years. I'd say that most were pretty on target. Sometimes a person would pass judgment,and I could tell that their ego got in the way of the reading. But I generally get very specific information, often regarding things I wasn't even aware of at the time.

For instance, two separate intuitives (one was a palm reader, the other channeled) who did not know each other told me in readings about 8 months apart my father's soul was an architect seemingly on another planet, building geometrically unique societal homes/communities. I thought they were nuts, and then my mom said my father always wanted to be an architect. I had no idea.

So, things like this tend to help me get a sense that some people can connect with non-physical reality. With the palm reader, it was very bizarre because I hadn't asked her for any information about my dad, and she read the architect thing from my hand. Ya got me how she sensed it.