Have you ever met someone that you felt almost immediately that you seemed to know, and that seemed to know you inside and out? Maybe they described your innermost feelings, even your life. Something like maybe the following statement:
“People close to you have been taking advantage of you. Your basic honesty has been getting in your way. Many opportunities that you have had offered to you in the past have had to be surrendered because you refuse to take advantage of others. You like to read books and articles to improve your mind. In fact, if you’re not already in some sort of personal service business, you should be. You have an infinite capacity for understanding people’s problems and you can sympathize with them. But you are firm when confronted with obstinacy or outright stupidity. Law enforcement would be another field you understand. Your sense of justice is quite strong.” (astrologer Sidney Omarr)
Gypsy “fortune tellers,” court magicians, diplomats, astrologers, and con men have been doing “cold readings” for thousands of years. They make statements about us, statements to us, that are broadly phrased in such a way that we will “fill in the blanks” and mentally make the meaning fit what we want to believe about ourselves.
We pick and choose what things we will remember or give significance to. We do this partly because we try to make sense out of what we experience. Even when the signs are clear and we are skeptical, we can still be manipulated. It may also be the case that people who are brighter than average are more easily manipulated, especially if the language is clear. The manipulator wants you to draw conclusion A from their facts
Fishing for details
The cold reader or manipulator will fish for details of your life, and pretend that they are also feeling the same things, that they like the same. They get you to talking, then respond to your information, pretending to feel the same way. Just as a fortune teller may “suggest” something to you about “I have a feeling about January…” and then you fill in the details of “Oh, yes, my mother died in January…” the charlatan picks up on this bit of information that they have gleaned from you, but you may “fill in the blanks” and think that the charlatan has really “read your mind.” Psychopaths can also fish for details which we happily supply to them. We tell them what we like, what we dislike, and what our moral compass is. We give them a picture of our inner selves which they mirror back to us, and in which we see ourselves reflected in their faces.
Professional mentalists such as Ian Rowland commit to memory various male and female names and common items usually found around the house. Two excellent books on cold reading and manipulation are the following: The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading: A Comprehensive Guide to the Most Persuasive Psychological Manipulation Technique in the World, Ian Rowland (this book is very expensive and not readily available.)
The Handbook Of Psychic Cold Reading: Psychic Reading For The Non-Psychic by Dantilion Jones (this book is inexpensive and readily available.)
Professional mentalists and con men also concentrate on various themes that resonate with most people, including love, money, relationships, career, health, and travel. Whether a charlatan is pretending to channel messages from your dead grandmother or whether they are simply trying to woo you so that they can get access to your bank account, the cold reading techniques have been used for eons to hook people into believing what they want to believe about themselves and about others.
Seeing what we want to see, forgetting the rest
The cold reader doesn’t always guess correctly, but because of our own nature, we tend to forget those times that they are incorrect, and to remember the times they have been right. This gives the over all impression of “wow, they must be psychic to know all this about me.” We humans tend to suppress contrary evidence and use selective thinking, which is the predominant form used in every “psychic demonstration.”
The old psychological principle is “a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.”
Though a “successful” manipulation or con is a testament to the con man and the “cold reader,” it depends more on the ability of human beings to make “sense” out of the most disparate of information. Cold reading is a skill that can be honed and turned into a fine art. Cold reading is used as such by professionals who work as mediums, palm readers, astrologers, “used car salesmen,” and by psychopathic manipulators. Even criminal profilers and psychologists interpreting Rorschach ink blots use these same techniques. Some may even believe their rates of successful cold readings are attributed to their psychic powers. Some of these professionals even believe in their own psychic powers, but others, such as stage-show mentalists tell their clients and audiences that cold reading does not require supernatural powers or spirit guides to accomplish their feats, but simply learning to use a skill. Just as How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie) and the 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene) tell us how to be great salesmen and influential and powerful people, the art of the cold reading can be learned as well.
What we are having to learn as former victims of the “long cons” by people who were high in manipulative traits, who convinced us they loved us, while actually abusing our trust and our desire to believe them, though, is to learn to spot the techniques of the cold reading. To learn to spot the “red flags” of the “love bomb” and to not fill in the blanks with our own minds, but to see the whole picture clearly.
Learn to be psychic in 10 easy lessons! (produced by the Skeptic’s Society)
Dickson, D. H., & Kelly, I. W. “The ‘Barnum effect’ in personality assessment: A review of the literature,” Psychological Reports, 57, 367-382, (1985).
Hyman, Ray. “‘Cold Reading’: How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them,” The Skeptical Inquirer Spring/Summer 1977.
Hyman, Ray. The Elusive Quarry : A Scientific Appraisal of Psychical Research (Prometheus Books, 1989).
Marks, David and Richard Kammann, The Psychology of the Psychic. 2nd ed. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2000).
Randi, James. Flim-Flam! (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books,1982).
Randi, James. Video. “Secrets of the Psychics.” James Randi reveals the secrets of the psychics and self-deceptive workings of the human mind.
Steiner, Robert A. Don’t Get Taken! – Bunco and Bunkum Exposed – How to Protect Yourself (Wide-Awake Books 1989).