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I hear dead people

“I’m getting someone with the name Jane, or maybe John, June, Jude. Does this mean anything to anyone?”

If you’ve ever seen a psychic, you’ve probably heard a statement like the one above. In the world of cold reading it’s called “fishing". And it’s just one of the ways "psychics" use to make it appear they have contact with spirits.

The term cold reading refers to strategies used by mentalists and fraudulent psychics and mediums to give the impression they can psychically discern personal information about someone. The reading is cold because it does not depend on any prior knowledge of the client. Instead, the “psychic” combines careful observations of the client’s characteristics and behavior with a series of guesses that are based on deduction, knowledge of probabilities, and the use of general statements, also called “Barnum” statements that are readily accepted by a large number of people as being true of themselves.

There are many “fakes” out there making a lot of money convincing people they are real. Recently, John Edward appeared on Dr. Phil, the late night talk shows, and even had a show of his own called “Crossing Over.” Before him there was Sylvia Brown who made a splash on The Montel Williams show. Currently, Theresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium has a show on TLC. These are great entertainers, but are they really psychic?

Here’s how some do it. First they set the scene. They present themselves as professionals. They may put on a show of being a bit shy about their “gift” at first. They may try to manage your expectation by saying things like, “I will try to answer any questions…” or “I will aim to contact…”

They will use your physical characteristic to determine things about you. They will use gender, age, weight, scars, ethnicity, and type of clothing, jewelry, voice, vocabulary and so forth to build a stereotype of you. They will make deductions about you. Part of being a psychic or medium is being a bit of a “Sherlock Holmes.” An example would be someone who has a tan line where a wedding ring once was indicates a recent divorce or separation. Expensive jewelry or clothing may indicate some affluence. Certain types of clothing might indicate interests, occupation or hobby.

Once they’ve stereotyped you they might start use general “Barnum” statements (named after the famous showman P.T. Barnum). A Barnum statement might sound like, “You have much potential” or “You have a need for others to like and admire you, but you tend to be critical of yourself.” These statements in themselves are generally true about most people. When someone tells you, “While you have some personality weakness, you are generally able to compensate for them” or “At times you are extroverted and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved” are they not true about you?

Then the cold reader will start fishing, “The name Jane is significant in some way,” or “I’m getting something about a car crash.” Fishing allows the cold reader to get you to give them information that later on you think they gave you. They observe your responses and reaction to fish further. They may ask questions in a negative to make sure they are correct either way. For example, “You’re not married, are you?” or “You’re not an only child, are you?” Either way you answer they are correct. If you answer “Yes, I am married,” The answer comes back as, “I thought so.” If you answer, “No, I’m not married,” the answer comes back as, “I didn’t think so.” Either way, the spirits gave them a hint.

Here’s a classic example. A cold reader might say something like, “I am getting something about a Will.” Here a Will could be someone named William, Bill, Billy, Will, or it can be a legal document…a will.

If all else fails, a cold reader will revert to an “out.” If they can’t get things to go their way, they may blame the spirits, “The spirits are just not cooperating today.” Or they may blame you, “You just need to open your heart to this,” or “You’ll understand this better later.”

You see, they are playing you for some reason. And it is at times very easy to play on the heart-strings of those who have lost someone. Before you jump on the, “this person is awesome” wagon. Listen carefully to their words. Are they truly divining to the spirit word, or are they just fishing?