The Truth about Psychics and Mediums

Do psychics and mediums have the ability to speak to the dead or see the future? What we understand about human nature, confirmation bias, blatant fraud, and lucky guesses, suggests that they do not.

I had a girlfriend who used to love going to get “readings” from psychic mediums. I was always skeptical of that stuff. I was never really one for ghosts or supernatural things, my vice was—okay, sometimes still is—physical creatures like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. Not that I believe they exist, it’s a fun notion, but at the time I believed the possibility of real, unknown creatures more than that of psychic powers.

My girlfriend was always astonished, and would talk with her friends about it. They were all so amazed at how the medium knew so much. In this post we’ll explore what these psychics do in order to make people believe that.

So-called psychics and mediums use a number of techniques to create the illusion of having special abilities beyond the norm. They seem to know things about a client or situation that they couldn’t possibly know without some apparently supernatural power. But these techniques, though esoteric and somewhat mysterious, are mundane.

Not all psychics or mediums engage in deceptive practices to con people. Some genuinely believe in their abilities and don’t always seek financial gain. They may not be aware of the techniques they employ to suss information about a person or situation.

The psychic set up in a little gypsy-style tent at the fair, or the tarot card reader down at the strip mall are a different story though. These people must be convincing if they want folks to part with their cash and keep them in business. Those who deceive people for profit, aside from being unscrupulous, are using some or all of the methods explained here to do so.

Many performing magicians are well-versed in these techniques. The difference is, a magician will be the first to tell you it is a trick, and won’t claim to have any special powers except for the practiced skill to deceive for the sake of entertainment.

One common trick employed is cold reading. This technique involves making generalized statements or asking leading questions to obtain information from the person who seeks a reading. The psychic then uses these cues to make more specific statements that seem accurate.

Another technique, not quite as subtle, is called hot reading. In this case the psychic or medium will gather information about a person in advance through basic research, social media, or surreptitiously from friends, family or other audience members, and then uses that information during the reading to appear knowledgeable about the individual.

Psychics often use generalized statements that are true for most people. Statements like “You have experienced loss or sadness in your life…” (who hasn’t?) or “Sometimes you are outgoing while other times you keep to yourself.” This is known as the Barnum effect (sometimes the Forer effect). People can be easily swayed by these statements because they seem personalized but can actually apply to a wide range of individuals.

Another method use is called subjective validation. In this case, psychics may make statements that are intentionally vague and open to interpretation. Casting a wide net so to speak, letting the subject connect fill in details to give the statements a personal meaning, thereby validating the psychics ability.

Psychics may employ dramatic theatrical techniques, like exaggerated confidence, intense eye contact, or faux trance-like states, combined with cold reading, to enhance the perception of their abilities.

Wanting to learn things that we can’t possibly know, like the wellbeing of deceased relatives we miss, or the desire to confirm things we want to believe, can set us up for deception. People in need can make an easy mark for a psychic who is leverages a person’s emotion to make a buck.

Some folks just want to believe. But if you’re at all curious, and want to keep yourself from being fooled, keep the above techniques in mind.

The perception of what the psychic says is also very important. A “psychic reading” is not a one way street, and the subject of the reading is a crucial part of making it work. Some things come into play from the perspective of the person receiving the reading.

For example, Apophenia, is the tendency for people to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things. This can make the psychics job a lot easier. Confirmation bias is another key player. This is is when people ignore information contrary to what they believe or want to believe. In this case, false statements made by the psychic medium are ignored and statements that ring true to the subject will make an impact.

It’s important that we approach psychics and mediums with skepticism and critical thinking. The next time you’re tempted to step into one of those darkened little tents, or at the strip mall crystal ball reader, keep in mind these many methods they rely on, the psychological principles involved, and their ability to read and manipulate people.