COLD READINGS: COOL TRICK OR CALLOUS MANIPULATION?
Supposed psychic Sylvia Brown got into some trouble last week, after missing Ohio resident Amanda Berry and two other women were found alive in their abductor’s Cleveland home. Way back in 2004, Brown appeared on The Montel Williams show with Berry’s grieving mother, Louwana Miller:
“She’s not alive, honey,” Browne reportedly told Miller. “Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call.” (Miller died a couple years later, and passed away still believing her daughter was deceased.)
Now, I’m not saying Browne had malicious intentions in delivering this message to Miller. Odds are the faux psychic’s words were intended to discourage a devastated mom from holding on to false hope. However, with the realization that Sylvia was lying through her pearly whites, people are wondering whether these so-called psychics are causing more harm than good.
A staunch skeptic, I don’t believe folks like Brown are actual psychics. I believe they are at best talented performers and at worst con-artists who prey upon people’s desperation. (FYI, the latter is, in my opinion, a complete and total violation of ethics – one which I will NOT tolerate. My friend Ruth and I were actually frog-walked out of a ‘Séance’ once for calling the ‘Medium’ out on her BS, but that’s another blog entry. *grin*) Personal feelings on psychics aside, I thought you might like to learn some tricks these fraudulent folks use to convince us they’re speaking to our dearly departed. With that in mind, here are five steps to a successful swindle:
1. Request Cooperation
A key aspect of any successful fleecing is securing your mark’s cooperation. Performers like Brown often start by asking for audience members’ help in interpreting messages. They may say stuff like:
The messages I receive can be hard to understand. I will need your help interpreting them. Will you help me and be open to whatever the spirits are telling you?
By requesting cooperation, a psychic can get the mark on her side from the start. Further, a smart psychic can insist that audience members who claim not to understand messages just aren’t open to receiving them. Pretty sneaky, eh?
2. Employ the Shotgun Method
You have the audience on your side: now what? Many successful psychics employ a cold-reading technique known as ‘shotgunning.’ By making many general predictions to a large audience, the psychic can increase his chances of being accurate. For example, a would-be psychic could say:
The name Catherine is significant.
The odds are good that at least one member of the audience is named Catherine or lost a friend or relative with the name. After making his prediction, the psychic will look to the audience to direct his line of questioning and focus on those with the strongest reactions.
3. Observe and Deduce
Not sure how many of you know this, but I actually have a little Sherlock Holmes training of my own. A few years back, I talked my way into being the first—and only—magician to attend classes at IAI, and learned how to read body language, micro-expressions, and signs of duplicitous behavior. Training alongside real CIA agents and Scotland Yard detectives, I learned how to read subtle facial cues and identify duper’s delight (that hint of a grin people get when they’re lying).
Shrewd psychics observe their audiences and make educated deductions. By paying close attention to facial expressions and body language, psychics can often determine if their guesses are hitting the mark and tailor their performance accordingly.
4. Follow the Rainbow
Wanna increase your odds of being right? Deliver statements that are easy to misconstrue. Many psychics use a technique called the rainbow ruse, which assigns the mark both a trait and the exact opposite of that trait. Example:
Usually you are good at talking to people, but sometimes you are shy and reserved.
Typically you are a social person, but you sometimes like to be alone.
By covering both sides of a trait, the psychic guarantees she’s right!
5. Wrap it up with a Smile
In any career, it’s important to present yourself in a positive light and highlight your achievements. Being a psychic is no different, and adept swindlers often end their readings by offering a positive summary of events. Make sure to restate all the correct predictions from the performance – even the ones that came from the client! Doing this helps ensure that the client leaves with a positive impression of your skills.
Whether you think these psychics are skilled performed or callous cons, it’s fascinating (I think) to know how they work their tricks.
Predicting we’ll meet again soon – or sometime – or perhaps not at all. *grin*
Your Happy Medium,