Cold reading

From Academic Kids

For the theatrical training technique, see Cold reading (theatrical).

Cold reading is a technique used by salespeople, interrogators, hypnotists, psychics, graphologists, palmists, astrologers, con-men etc. to convince another person that they know more about them than they actually do. Generally, the cold reader will make a series of vague statements, will observe the subject's reactions, and then will refine the original statements according to those reactions. The technique is sometimes applied in order to falsely convince an audience that the reader possesses psychic abilities.

Before starting the actual reading, the reader will typically try to elicit cooperation: "I often see images that are a bit unclear and may sometimes mean more to you than to me; if you help, we can together uncover new things about you." Then they may start out with a general statement such as "I sense that you are sometimes insecure, especially with people you don't know very well. Is there something to it?" (see Forer effect) or with a guess that looks more specific than it is: "I see an elderly lady that's close to you, some sadness, and a photo album. Can you make any sense of that?" or "I feel some pain, maybe in the head or in the back." The subject will typically reveal some information with their reply, and the cold reader can continue from there. In general, while most of the words come from the reader, most of the information comes from the subject.

A number of performers have studied the techniques of cold reading and have posed as psychics offering either private fortune-telling sessions or open forum "talking with the dead" sessions in the manner of alleged psychic John Edward. Only after receiving acclaim and applause do they reveal that they needed no psychic power, only a knowledge of psychology and cold-reading. Such performers are known to include Ian Rowland, Mark Edward, Lynne Kelly, Kari Coleman and Derren Brown.

If the techniques of cold reading are combined with the use of information obtained covertly, this is known as hot reading. However, even without prior knowledge of a person, a psychic could still obtain a great deal of his subject's history by carefully analysing his or her look and other background information, such as gender, religion, race, education level and place of origin. This is called profiling.

Cold reading is often in no way intended to defraud or deceive. Former New Age practitioner Karla McLaren said, "I didn't understand that I had long used a form of cold reading in my own work! I was never taught cold reading and I never intended to defraud anyone — I simply picked up the technique through cultural osmosis." [1] (

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