I’ve mentioned cold reading before and want to give a overview of what this technique is all about. The Cold in cold reading refers to the Reader having no information about the client prior to the reading, there is also Hot reading which can involve a person actively gathering information about a client or hidden microphones to covertly pick up conversations. One method of cold reading is fishing for details, the Reader might throw out a vague reference such as seeing a man who was close to the client. If this is met with recognition then it is followed up with another vague suggestion like sensing pain in his chest or head. In this fashion details can be built up where the client is providing the details and connecting things themselves while thinking the information is coming from the Reader.

Another technique has the Reader spouting multiple ambiguous words and phrases- Father figure, the month of May, the Big-H, and H with an N sound, Henna, Henry, M, maybe Michael, teaching, books, maybe something published these are then followed up on as with the fishing. This shotgun technique is especially effective if it is used on a crowd, this increases the chance that someone will have a personal connection to at least one of the items on the list.

A believer contributes most of the power to these tricks of the cold reading trade, and will unconsciously help the Reader. This help can be as subtle as forgetting misses and emphasizing hits or can be overt as making excuses on behalf of the Reader for misses. It is possible for a client to mis-remember a session with a Reader to the extent that they will insist that they were silent the whole time while the Reader gave them completely accurate information. The effect of cold reading can be very powerful not just on the clients but also the Readers themselves, in many instances it is quite plausible that they have convinced themselves that they actually have the power to see into peoples lives. But John Edward is still a prick.

Resources:

http://skepdic.com/forer

http://www.skeptics.com.au/articles/coldread.htm

http://www.skepticreport.com/psychicpowers/confessions.htm

http://www.unt.edu/behv/hyten/3200/Cold%20Reading.doc (MS Word Document)