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 guesses.

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.

Some 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.


Richard Dawkins
The Enemies Of Reason

Dawkins 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”.

He calls 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.