“I see dumb people” – Learn to cold-read like a so-called “psychic.”


I don’t believe in psychics, palm readers, telekinesis or mediums. Not because I’m a huge skeptic but because I’ve been researching them for years and have found NO evidence that their skills are real. And what’s more, I’m seriously angry that these frauds prey on people who are mourning, and very open to suggestion, just to make money. It’s sick. Now, I’ll show you some of the fruits of my labor and how you, yes you, can cold read just like a psychic. Maybe this will help prove once and for all that it’s all bunk.

By the way, I’d like to point out that I don’t think people who go to psychics are dumb. Far from it, I’m trying to protect them. The title of my article is more aimed at how psychics see their stooges. Hope that all makes sense. Ok? Good, let’s continue.

When I first saw a psychic at work I was in my early teens. I saw a documentary on Uri Geller (a favorable one) and was blown away. What a guy, what power, what an amazing man. “How does he do that dad?” is said. “Must be magic” my dad replied, in a sarcastic tone I never picked up on at the time.

Then I grew up and saw another Geller documentary, this time featuring James Randi. He systematically shattered every single “power” that Uri had demonstrated. And of course, there’s the infamous Johnny Carson clip (below) in which James Randi simply made sure Uri Geller could not gain access to any prop before the show. Sure enough, he just wasn’t feeling strong that night. He sucked. He was powerless. Coincidence? I think not.

The James Randi Educational Foundation offers $1 million to anyone who can prove psychic, paranormal or supernatural powers. Thousands of people have applied for it; no one has ever come close to collecting the money. Why? Because the tests are done under strictly supervised conditions, where these people with magical powers have no access to props, stooges or hidden devices. James Randi also has a secret object placed in a vault, which he changes out every two weeks. Not one psychic or mental projectionist has ever been able to see it. How strange, when they can see other things so clearly. Could it be that their powers are weaker when under duress? Or that they have no powers at all?

Mr. James Randi, founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

I have heard people say, “well, why should these psychics have to prove anything to anyone?” But think about that for a second. They are offering a service, aren’t they? Just like your local plumber, or to use a better analogy, your average psychotherapist. They couldn’t root around in your head without proof that they know whet they’re doing. But psychics can confidently claim your dead relative has a message for you with absolutely no proof whatsoever, and then take your hard earned cash for the “service.” I call it not only unfair but also more closely related to a crime. In fact, carnivals and sideshows have often been the breeding ground for these super-beings, until TV legitimized them and gave them fame into the bargain. Well, my strong stomach can only take so much.

I could write a book on the phony methods and scams used by psychics, but lets just keep it to the most well known and easy to master – cold reading.

Note: There is a more foolproof method called “hot reading” which has been utilized by the likes of magicians and phony faith healers like Peter Popoff. Here, a stooge surreptitiously gains real information about the “mark” and passes it to the faith healer or magician, who then recounts it to the astonishment of the crowd. Palm readers can go through wallets and purses. Some will even dig through your garbage before your appointment. But this is a difficult method for most people as it requires more people and more preparation.

You can, however, garner very successful results from cold reading. Anyone with a modicum of common sense and a good eye for detail can cold read. And I know you can do it to. I’m revealing these techniques not so that you can go out and use them on other people (unless you do it as a party trick for no money) but to show you how easy it is to do. There really is no such thing as a psychic, I assure you. And if you say I’m lying, don’t tell me…apply to the James Randi Foundation and claim the $1 million. Something tells me that won’t be happening though.

Cold reading – the art of being vague
Have you ever wondered why dead relatives are so vague? Why is it that psychics don’t get information that’s solid, but more “sketchy?” Well, the answer is simply that they’re not really getting messages from the dead. They’re cold reading. It’s a simple technique that magicians have used for centuries and it’s very effective, especially when you’re in the presence of people who genuinely want to believe what you’re saying. As Wise Bread readers, I suspect most of you were wise enough to have figured this out already, but here are the details, step by step.

1: People WANT to believe you – tell them what they WANT to hear.
This one is a basic premise but one that’s based on the human condition. We don’t want to hear negative things about ourselves. If someone says to you “you’re a very honest person, but it takes people a while to really get to know you” then you’re almost certainly going to agree, because it’s not negative in any way. Turn that around and say the opposite – “you’re deceptive and people can read you like an open book” is awful. No one wants to hear that, it makes him or her sound shallow and evil. Other vague information, often referred to as the Forer effect, uses statements that apply to almost anyone.

“You have a box of old, unsorted photos at home.”
“As a young child, you had an accident near water.”
“You’re having some emotion problems with a friend or relative.”

In the psychic realm, the same applies. People who go to see a psychic usually want to heal the pain left by a deceased loved one. If that’s the case, no one wants to hear that grandma was a crabby old bag that hated everyone, even if it was true. No, best to stay generically positive and let you make it apply to your loved one.

Example of vague, positive readings:

“Your mom was dearly loved by everyone, although she often had a difficult time of expressing her true feelings.”

“I sense a lot of frustration from this person, he was clearly meant for bigger and better things than he was doing.” – this applies to anyone, even the President.

“This man dreamed of things before they happened and often had a strong sense of Déjà vu.”

2: Use the SHOTGUN technique.
Sylvia Browne (more on her later), James Van Praagh and John Edwards are some of the many psychics that have been accused of using this technique. It basically involves throwing enough questions and suggestions out at the audience that some of it is bound to stick. You’ve often seen this parodied in comedy sketches.

PSYCHIC: “I’m getting the name John. Is there someone with a connection to John in the audience? Maybe Johnny? Jonathon? Perhaps he worked with a John, or spent a lot of time in the John? Did he go to a supermarket with a cashier named John? Or Jenny? Or Jimmy? Or Timmy? Or Sammy? Samantha?”

AUDIENCE MEMBER: “My mom’s cat’s name was Samantha!”

PSYCHIC: “Ah yes, she’s coming through clear.”

Okay, so I took it a little more to the level of parody than it usually works, but seriously it’s not that far fetched. When you watch shows by Edwards or Van Preach, you’re seeing edited content. You don’t get to see all of the countless “misses” that the psychics make. They can often throw hundreds of questions out before hitting a target. And it’s just another series of shotgun questions from there. Basically, they’re playing guessing games and your reactions and body language provide the answers for them. You should see the contracts people have to sign before going to these shows, too. They’re huge, and are basically non-disclosure agreements. What happens in the show, stays in the show. Just like David Blaine and his “flying powers”, this stuff looks way more convincing on TV. But unlike Blain, Penn & Teller and even Copperfield, there is no admission of magic or trickery on the part of the psychics. Nope, they are the real deal. Trust them!

Anyway, here are a few nice shotgun methods to get you started…

“I see a father-figure with chest pains.” (A nice way to combine the very vague with a very common illness).

“I see a woman who was very important to you, but you often disagreed.”

“I’m getting the powerful memories of cancer.” (1 in 3 people get cancer, what are the odds?)

Like I said at the start, these are not intended to arm you with anything other than knowledge. Next time you see someone pulling these comments out of thin air, you at least know where they’re getting them from.

3: The rainbow ruse
This one covers all the bases. It’s so transparent it’s very easy to see through later, but at the time it gets you. Basically, the psychic gives you both sides of a personality trait in the same sentence. Usually, a very positive statement but with the addition of a negative Here’s a typical example…

“ You have a bright, cheery disposition but there have been times when you have been a little down, upset and closed off.” (duh!)

Try this with anything, on anyone, and it works. Just remember, tell people what they want to hear. No one wants to be a misery-guts with occasionally moments of happiness, even if they are!

4: Gimmicks are a psychic’s best friends.
Tarot cards, bones, crystal balls, palm reading and tealeaves give the psychic a nice crutch to hold onto. If they can think of nothing to say, they can be studying the messages in their prop of choice. The props also come with some terrific psychic baggage, people do believe in their mystical powers. And regardless of what kind of palm you have, it relates to your life as much as the lines in your car parking space. Look up palm reading, learn the techniques, and then say the exact opposite things to your test subject. You will still be accurate. Try it.

5: Include the “magic” of current polls & surveys and study people well.
I’m sorry to say that quite often, judging a book by its cover works very well. If you’re a young lesbian woman with tattoos and a penchant for outlandish clothing, it’s doubtful you’re a Republican. You may well be, but it’s doubtful. Psychics will use these visual clues to guess your background, voting preferences, likes and dislikes. And they’re very good at it. Someone like Derren Brown can guess your phone’s ring tone just by looking at you. But he’s no psychic, as he himself tells you at the start of each show.

6: Flattery gets you everywhere; stay positive.
People don’t want negative reviews of themselves or their relatives. If your granny was an old bag, you don’t want to hear it. Luckily, you never will. Psychics are great at giving you the happy news, they rarely sprinkle in the bad stuff. Although one who does is Sylvia Browne, who has told troubled relatives all sorts of horrible things that turned out not to be true. Watch these clips and see if you can figure out why she’s still around, or why Montel would ever have her back on his show.

7: Use the co-operation clause.
This is a great way to put the blame for incorrect statements back on you. Simply tell your test subject in advance that you may not interpret or convey the messages you get as intended. Thus, your subject needs to make sure that he/she concentrates to make that interpretation work. End result – if you say you’re seeing an old man called John, and her father was an old man called Robert, it’s her fault for not getting the translation! Huh? The psychic always puts the onus on you to grab onto the generalities they spew out and make them your own. Don’t fall for it.

8: Listen.
Always go back to part 1 when you’re in doubt. People want to believe you, and will tell you things, subconsciously, to make part 1 come true. For instance, they’ll often tell you that they want to talk to their dead mom and just want to know she’s ok (gee, I wonder if that will happen?) Many psychics will spend half of their time listening to what you have to say, then use that information against you. When it comes down to it, you’re actually doing your own reading. The psychic is simply validating what you say. Clever? Yes? Paranormal? No way.

9: Be confident, and give it some drama.
Psychics could teach used car salesmen a thing or too about believability. They use great facial gestures, expand upon their points and make it seem like they genuinely are talking to the dead. There’s nothing wrong with being hammy. I believe it was Adolf Hitler who said “the bigger the lie, the more the people will believe it.” Well, these are some pretty big stinkers you’ll be telling, so add a little acting to the role. Remember, they want to believe you so ham it up.

10: See rule one.
If there’s one thing you can learn about cold reading, it’s rule one. They are hanging on your every word, they want to believe you, like you want to laugh at a favorite comedian who’s telling a poor joke.

That’s it. Long article I know. And I also know I will get a ton of abuse from people on this one. To anyone who is a psychic or medium, I’m sorry. Not because I apologize, I’m just really sorry you’ve taken that ridiculous avenue in life. Stop deluding people and get a real job.

Additional photo credits: The Stock Exchange, Creative Commons

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Guest's picture
not sure

James Van Praagh?

Paul Michael's picture

Aaargh, I did mean James Van Praagh. That's what happens when you hit the wrong button in spell checker!

Guest's picture

Oh, man. I am SO using the fake psychic bit the next time I'm trapped and bored at a networking event.

-Sally J.

(The Practical Archivist)

Guest's picture

...that you are a repressed psychic who is resisting your strong inner call to your true vocation. Also, you will soon run low on toilet paper.

Guest's picture

Those that pursue cheap ways to influence or befuddle, particularly to get money or fame, give a bad name to the very useful little inner voice we all have. Don't let their dirty tricks cause you to lose touch with your own inner resources. And no, these "powers" aren't all that "powerful" -- they won't usually be dramatic. And yes, they almost always have a rational basis and can play the long statistical odds -- because our "early warning systems" are natural phenomena, they express using natural methods.

Take for example the stories you hear about someone who has a "bad feeling" about someone and does something practical to protect themselves, only to find out later that this person was a criminal looking for another victim. Was that person psychic? Did they receive a subconscious clue? Does it matter which (or does only the outcome matter?) to the person who made the right connection and saved themselves?

Or the person who had a "weird feeling" or had a string of very unlikely events happen that kept them from getting on a plane that crashed. Again, statistically, people probably have these things happen more often when no crash occurs, but does that matter to the person who didn't die?

So block out the loud self-serving braggarts and charlatans, but leave the door open to your own still, small voice within. Don't let them fool you, but also don't over-react and let your skepticism rob a valuable resource from yourself.

Guest's picture

Agreed. The Gift of Fear teaches that you should always trust your instincts about people.

Guest's picture

I never understood the coverage these hacks get, especially John Edwards, who had a whole show full of crock! His shotgun approach was so obvious that his show was more of a parody of itself than anything else. "John? Anyone? John? He was wearing a shirt... red shirt... maroon? Pink? Beige shirt? Shirtless? He hates shirts! Yeah, that's John... good ole shirtless John."

Sylvia Brown just sounds like a hag who hates the world and uses her platform to abuse people when she feels like it. Montel lost a lot of credibility when he has her on a regular basis.

Personally, I think they are entertaining at times but that's all it is.

Guest's picture

Trust me I know people will buy so may things. Ive spent more than my fair share of time being a telephone psychic. People tell you everything you need to know and accept so easily. I sue the same techniques in business and pleasure.

Guest's picture

The human race is a gullible race. 70% of everyone believes in ghosts! Now, there's a topic!

Guest's picture

Great article, but I wish you had titled it differently. Your explanation for the title notwithstanding, I think it is still going to prevent many from reading the article who may have learned the most from it.

Paul Michael's picture

Obviously I can't change it now due to linking protocol, but would love to know what you think I should have called it. As a writer, I struggle most with the headline, it can kill an article or make it strong.

Guest's picture

You get what you look for -- you can not separate the observed from the observer. Hence, your personal pre-disposition towards psychics, et al, influences how you view these events.

This is not to say there are not charlatans, there are. But no degree or education guarantees a skill level in anything. And many, many states do not even have basic construction standards for housing, electrical work or plumbing.

BTW, without psychic sensitivity, you would not be able to even taste food. Oh, and all psychic events have a physical counterpoint so physics, science, et al, actually does not contradict or rule out psychic activity.

Guest's picture

If it weren't that those poor people were suffering so over their loved ones, those videos with the psychic on Montel's show would be really funny.

"She got shot!"

"Well no..."

"He's under water. They just can't find people when they're under eater."

"He died in 9/11."

How dumb did she look?

Guest's picture

I know your intentions were to open the eyes of the "dumb people", but there's a side to this you don't understand.
...one day you're laughing with your husband/wife, or playing with your child. The next day you're faced with never hearing their voice again, never holding them again. They're gone -forever. Finding some measure of peace with their death is what keeps it from eating you up inside. How or where someone finds their peace is minute in comparison to finding it at all.

Unbridled gullibility can destroy science, but unbridled disbelief is no less a threat because it brings both a tolerance for bias and ridicule as well as the supression of untested new ideas. Given that scientific technology hasn't yet advanced enough to test psychic ability, it seems unreasonable and premature to make an absolute declaration of it's validity.

Guest's picture

This is spot on - I used to work for a new age bookstore, and there was a constant stream of resident psychics working their "magic" to suckers in the back room. All of the psychics were severely damaged fraudsters.... most people went to see them for fun, but there were some poor souls who sincerely believed in "Psychic Power"......

Guest's picture

Remote viewing is a highly documented and thoroughly researched tool that was developed by our government. I'm sure you're familiar with it. While popular psychics may be questionable, the research done on remote viewing is solid. I'm not sure how years of research could overlook the remote viewing programs developed here in the states and also Russia.

But in case it was an oversight, these programs have reputable research and scientists behind it.

Good opinion piece though, even if I don't agree.


Guest's picture

I could understand the resentment.
And, how a lot of psychics do take advantage of people.
Believe me I do understand.
I am not talking new age mumbo jumble.
I would prefer to say I am a Christian
I am a psychic and comedian, my name I won’t tell you is Richard Spasoff.
Anyways, I have a free complimentary reading; I do on my show during the week to help people out with their problems.
Basically we all have the ability to be psychic.
I‘ll teach you how
It not a special thing, you just have to listen to what God is saying too us.
That may sound crazy, but I am referring to that inner voice you hear when you get a warning about something or someone.
Call me on my show(blogtalkradio.com/psychicmediumspasoff/ sometime or email me at kspazradio@yahoo.com

For twenty five years, I have been a angelic psychic medium and comedian to the underground of society. Wandering the concrete jungle, meeting with prostitutes, strippers, homeless and the criminal organization known as the Mafia, my work has been wide range and has touched many lives.

My titles are many: I am a spiritual counselor, psychic, dance choreographer, holistic health practitioner . You may ask how could I do this all ? I sometimes wonder myself. My life has always been one that has unfolded , creating a path of faith for me to follow in God’s ultimate arrangement of my life. I never knew where my angels would lead me, but I had some idea of what I was suppose to do. I was put on this earth to help many types of people in need.

Most of my life was shrouded in darkness. Sex, drugs, murder and mayhem were spread out like a Las Vegas $2.99 buffet . To me this situation was living. As my friend Don Adams would say (from “Get Smart”), “and loving every minute of it.” Don’t misunderstand me; I wasn’t involved with this activity. In fact, this activity scared me to death, but at the same time scared the life into me. It kept me alive, giving me a calling to live. My vocation, my passion was in helping people. I was there to help, to pray and to calm down people during their time of crisis. Even though, I was walking in dangerous company, I felt protected by my angels. I felt that I was always guided to the people I needed to be with.

Guest's picture

acording to the theory of subjective validation the more adept you are at utilizing your own logical processess the more likely you are to believe in this whole thing. the same process by which we understand a sentence or poetry is at work here, and thus many so called fortune tellers actually believe that this is real because there are results.

i believe the people running their scam like a business are the ones that are fully aware of the trick or gimmick. while there are others out there who meditate and burn candles and hear stories of their grandma having a gift, who are commited and honest people who have been scammed as well. really the honest ones learn these gimmicks under the guise of enhancing or getting in touch with their own talent, and the terminology is completely different. they know nothing of the rainbow ruse, or barnum statements.

again... the more you use your logic the easier it is to be led into subjective validation...

Guest's picture

I think that your article is right except for one glaring thing...I'm a person of the psychic persuasion myself. And I'm not trying to prove that to you, I'm just saying that I've personally experienced and have evidence of dreams that I've had that were in fact precognitive (I keep diaries of my dreams and therefore have records: that's good enough for me.)

I do agree that the people who scam the mourning and the grief stricken out of their own money for personal gain are sick and twisted individuals, but a con artist is a con artist.

I don't pray on anyone, and I don't tell many people except for a couple of friends because most that I meet are biased in favor of this very opinion.

It isn't really psychics or anyone that may or may not fall into this category that you are trying to protect people from, just a particular breed of con artist, and I find that noble though perhaps not done in the best way?

Just my two cents.

Paul Michael's picture

You should contact James Randi here. http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html If you have genuine proof, you get $1 million.