Cold-Reading With Derren Brown
Mentalist Branch of the Magic Community
Cold Reading & Psychics
|The definition of Cold reading is a series
of techniques used by mentalists, illusionists, fortune tellers,
psychics, mediums and con artists to determine or express details about
another person, often in order to convince them that the reader knows
much more about a subject than they actually do.
Without prior knowledge of a person, a practiced cold reader can still
quickly obtain a great deal of information about the subject by
analyzing the person's body language, age, clothing or fashion,
hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity,
level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc.
Cold readers commonly employ
high probability guesses about the subject, quickly picking up on
signals from their subjects as to whether their guesses are in the right
direction or not, and then emphasizing and reinforcing any chance
connections the subjects acknowledge while quickly moving on from missed
The mentalist branch of the magic community approves of
"reading" as long as it is presented strictly as an artistic
entertainment and one is not pretending to be psychic.
performers who use cold reading are honest about their use of the
technique. Lynne Kelly, Kari Coleman, Ian Rowland and Derren Brown have
used these techniques at either private fortune-telling sessions or open
forum "talking with the dead" sessions in the manner of those who claim
to be genuine mediums.
Only after receiving acclaim and applause from their
audience do they reveal that they needed no psychic power for the
performance, only a sound knowledge of psychology and cold reading.
In an episode of his Trick of the Mind series broadcast
in March 2006, Derren Brown showed how easily people can be influenced
through cold reading techniques by repeating Bertram Forer's famous
demonstration of the personal validation fallacy, or Forer effect.
Cold readers employ high probable guesses about a subject, quickly picking up on signals from their subjects as to whether their guesses are right or wrong. If they are wrong, they will usually quickly proceed onto more questions, while usually focusing on answers they got right.
The Enemies Of Reason
points to some of science’s achievements and describes it as freeing
“most of us” from superstition and dogma.
Picking up from his
superstition-reason distinction in The Root of All Evil? (while
recycling some footage from it), he then says reason is facing an
“epidemic of superstition” that “impoverishes our culture” and
introduces gurus that persuade us “to run away from reality”.
the present day “dangerous times”. He returns to science’s achievements,
including the fact that, by extending our lifespan, it helps us to
better appreciate its ‘other’ achievements. He turns his attention to
astrology, which he criticises for stereotyping without evidence, and he
tries an experiment in which 20 people of various star signs is asked
if the verdict for Capricorn applies to them, while being told it is
their ‘own' star sign.
The result was that the one Capricorn person did
not believe it, but some of the others did. Dawkins is warned against
the experiment by the astrologer Neil Spencer, and Dawkins tells him he
is in a no-lose situation. “I hope so, yes”, replies Spencer. Having put
astrology to the test and referred to larger-scale experiments, he then
talks about the real beauty in astronomy, and then expresses
frustration that 50% of the UK population – more than are members of one
religion – believe in the paranormal.
He then visits a palm reader, Simon Goodfellow, who makes statements
Dawkins interprets as referring to retirement – which most people his
age would soon be going in for, but not importantly Dawkins himself –
and Cornell then finds himself in contradiction over whether or not the
“spirit G” is a family member.
Cornell next tries suggesting this spirit
was in the military – again, typical of deceased relatives of people
Dawkins’s age, but not of Dawkins. Cornell finishes with several
explanations of why his powers might not always work, but Dawkins
insists extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and then
talks to the sceptical Derren Brown about cold reading, including
misdirective tricks it uses.