127. Critical Thinking: Linguistic Tricks Con-Artists Use To Manipulate You

08 important lessons from this lecture:

00:12:55 Coldreading is “a set of techniques used by mentalists, psychics, fortune-tellers, mediums and illusionists to imply that he or she knows much more about a person than the mentalist, fortune-teller, medium and illusionist actually does.” Coldreading statements come in four basic forms:

  1. Positive aspects about the person. People are generally reluctant to accept all positive comments about them because it’s ‘too good to be true,’ or not completely valid.
  2. Negative aspects about the person. People generally accept negative comments about them.
  3. Aspects so general that they apply to everyone
  4. Rather specific aspectics about the person

00:20:11 An important element in coldreading is the Forer Effect, or the Barnum Effect, which is “the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.” What makes these statements so powerful is that they prey “on the eagerness of people to fill in details and make connections between what is said and some aspect of their own lives (often searching their entire life’s history to find some connection, or reinterpreting statements in a number of different possible ways so as to make it apply to themselves).”

Another characteristic of coldreading is subjective validation: the people receiving the coldreading tends to remember the correct information about them and forget the mistakes, or wrong information.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Here is an excellent example of the Barnum Effect:

Here is Derren Brown’s website.]

00:21:14 Althought it did exist, in my (Ray Hyman’s) research, I could not find any use of the term coldreading as it pertains to fortune telling before 1944. Coldreading originally referred to when an actor reads a script while trying out for a part in a play.

The first person to officially use ‘coldreading’ in its present form was William Gresham in his 1946 book Nightmare Alley, and then again in his 1953 book Monster Midway.

00:24:13 One of the characteristics of university professors and other smart people is that they tend to be immunized from the outside world, so they lack a certain amount of street smarts and can be more easily taken in by things.

00:36:11 During palm readings, people will actually unconsciously move their hands towards or away from the palm reader according to the accuracy of the palm reader’s statements. This is a great, covert way for the palm reader to gauge their statements where everyone’s happy: You get your ‘authentic fortune telling,’ and the coldreader gets your money.

00:37:10 After having conducted hundreds of palm readings, I (Ray Hyman) eventually began telling people the exact opposite of what the all the palm reading interpretation books were stating. The result, people were astounded that my readings were so much more insightful and spot on than all of the other fortune tellers that person had gone to, who had all been saying the same things. The moral was that it doesn’t really matter.

00:37:27 Coldreading has even found it’s place in established and credible institutions with evaluations such as the Rorchach test, a psychological test in which “subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both.”

Even today many personality tests which have absolutely no validity are used by companies to make hiring decisions, by dating websites to match singles, etc.

00:41:47 The majority of coldreaders consciously know that what they are doing is manipulative coldreading. The remaining percentage are referred to as shut eyes: “a performer who becomes so adept at the illusion of mind reading that the performer comes to believe that he or she actually possesses psychic powers.

Why? Because with each successful reading you grow more confident in your abilities as a coldreader and a person capable of manipulating the person in front of you; and this confidence eminates from you and is obvious to the person being coldread, thus further ensuring that the person being coldread will agree with your fortune telling.

Shut eye or not, by simply claiming to be a coldreader and confidently providing a coldreading, you are guaranteed at least some level of success. However if you, the coldreader, want to set yourself over and above the typical shut eye, apply the following most important elements of a coldreading, then you will have a great advantage over a ‘shut eye’ coldreader:

  1. By letting the person know that he or she is entering into your (the coldreader’s) special world.
  2. That while he or she is unsure of what the rules are, that you know what the rules are. And further that the person believes that you competently know what the rules are.
  3. That you are a skilled, seasoned, professional fortune teller who has done this a hundred times before.
  4. Have ways of ensuring that in the event of a misreading, or incorrect information, that that incorrect information is the result of the person being coldread, and not any fault of yours.
  5. Understanding that the person you are coldreading actually wants you to succeed and provide them with an accurate fortune telling.

Put all these elements together, and you have a coldreading in which the coldreader has all the probabilities in his/her favor coming out on top, regardless of how incompetent the coldreader is.

The problem with coldreading is that the whole allure of having your fortune read is believing it is possible. Once a coldreader attaches a disclaimer statement explaining his techniqures are nothing more than a performance artist gimmick, the whole allure is taken away. So the question becomes at what point should a coldreader admit he or she is just a performance artist?

What I (Ray Hyman), as a professional coldreader, did to simultaneously address this dilemma and to diffuse the audience’s basis for challenging my legitimacy was to begin each fortune telling seance with what is called an ‘invited inference’- “inviting onlookers to draw their own inferences aout the source of the apparent feats of mind reading. Most of them concluded I was truly psychic.” The seemingly innocent introduction that “I make no claims about the reading I am about to give. I have studied very hard for this and I hope that you enjoy it, but I make no claims.” Ray Hyman, wikipedia

This ultimately comes down to a magician intentionally claiming before he attempts a magic trick that “In my hands I have an ordinary deck of cards,” and a talented magician inferencing that the cards are just another normal deck of cards by simply shuffling them in his/hands to inference that are a normal deck of cards.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Absolutely the most comprehensive book on coldreading I have read so far is The Full Facts Book of Coldreading by Ian Rowland]

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