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What Is Cold Reading?

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  • By Cindy Simpson
  • Published: 08/05/20 2:27 PM EDT
  • Updated: 08/07/20 1:27 AM EDT

Cold reading is a collection of methods and techniques used by psychics, mediums, fortune-tellers, and mentalists to get an idea of an individual’s personal traits by observing and examining body language, overall look, religion, ethnicity, educational and cultural background. To make a cold reading seem more accurate, practitioners often ask their subjects to help them interpret vague readings.

To explore cold reading techniques and learn more about how it actually works, the article will further discuss the topics, including the definition of cold reading, the cold reading techniques, whether it is possible to learn how to cold read, and if cold reading is actually trustworthy.

What Is the Cold Reading Definition?

Cold reading is defined as a collection of approaches and techniques used to obtain information about personal characteristics through observing body language, facial expressions, manner of speaking, design and color of clothes/accessories, haircut, religion, ethnicity, culture, and educational background.

Cold readings are commonly based on some universal guesses and assumptions. First, cold readers form a cooperative conversation with the subject. After interpreting the hypothesis, cold reading practitioners observe the reaction of their subject. If a cold reader failed in making the right guess, he/she will just avoid speaking about that specific topic and move on to the next one. No matter if the assumption was right or wrong, subjects typically reveal useful details that can be used for further predictions.

Basically, cold reading is a technique used by mentalists and psychologists to reveal genuine intentions of the subject. While cold reading is an absolutely amazing technique used for uncovering dozens of mysterious secrets, and sometimes it is even a key to solving crime scenes, psychics might just take advantage and try to scam you by cold reading approaches.

Lots of psychics, mediums, and fortune-tellers use the same exact cold reading techniques to make the clients believe in their supernatural abilities. What they really do is that they observe the subject’s physical appearance, body language, and facial reactions to make some guesses. These cold reading tricks convince you that the psychic knows things that he/she could not have known without the special divinatory skills.


What Are the Cold Reading Techniques?

Mentalists, psychologists, psychics, mediums, and fortune-tellers use various cold reading techniques to retrieve some details from their subjects. Some of the most common cold reading techniques will be discussed below.


Shotgunning is the most widespread cold reading technique used by not only mentalists but also psychics and fortune-tellers. What the shotgunning method implies is that the cold reader starts talking about very general statements in the hope that someone in the audience might feel familiar with the issue. After offering general information, the cold reader observes the reactions and tries to be more specific with his/her assertions. By narrowing the scope and showing the knowledge of such specific events, the cold reader manages to gain the audience’s trust.

Some of the most frequently used topics in shotgunning technique include:

  • Chest pain and heart disease

The most common medical problem leading to death is considered to be heart disease. A cold reader might state that he/she sees someone with severe heart pain and possible heart problems. Most of the people on earth will think of someone in the family who has died from heart disease. While it might seem that a cold reader managed to see some occurrences of your life, he/she has just used the shotgunning technique to convince you in his/her nonexistent supernatural powers.

  • A woman with cancer

Another common disease is cancer. Thus, dozens of cold readers claim that they see someone suffering from breast cancer around you. There cannot be a single individual who does not know a woman who was diagnosed with one of the types of cancer. This means that the cold reader made you believe in his/her psychic abilities with just an extremely general statement.

  • Disagreements with an elderly male in your life

Cold readers commonly mention conflicts with a male member of your family. They might even state that the male figure wants you to know that he loves you despite the disagreements you had while he was alive. Such statements will raise the emotions and make you believe that the psychic actually possesses supernatural abilities.

  • The use of some of the most common male and female names

Dozens of cold readers mention some of the widespread male and female names. For instance, one might say that he/she sees someone called Mary (or Marie). Nearly all people have someone in the family called “Mary.” You might think that the psychic really saw someone called Mary, but he/she just used one of the most widespread name in the world. If a cold reader wants to talk about a male figure, he/she will most probably mention “James” or “John” since these are two of the most popular given names in the US. If you cannot think of someone called James or John, the psychic will then just ask you to remember a person with J or G in his name. And guess what! There is a person in your life whose name starts with either J or G. Unfortunately, you were the victim of so-called shotgun statements.

The Use of Barnum Statements, AKA the Forer Effect

The Barnum effect, also known as the Forer effect, is a widespread technique used by a vast array of mentalists, psychics, and fortune-tellers. The Barnum-Forer effect involves the use of vague personality descriptions and statements that are true for most of the people.

Since the assertions are extremely hazy and general, people try to attach their own meanings to each statement they read or hear. In this way, subjects fill in the gaps and make the statements look very personal to them.

Many of the astrologers use the technique to issue daily, weekly, and monthly horoscopes. While reading the horoscope, you will try to find relations between the issue and your life. The set of general statements and descriptions of personality traits can be applied to almost anyone in the world.

The Rainbow Ruse

The Rainbow Ruse is one of the most common cold reading techniques using two contradictory phrases in one statement while talking about a particular subject. The vague sentences will make the subject believe that the cold reader made an accurate assertion about the specific personality trait or any other issue. Typically, cold readers use two contrasting emotions to describe the personality of an individual. The reason for this is that almost everyone on our planet has experienced both emotions at some point.

Some of the examples of rainbow ruse statements include:

  • You are a very positive and bright person, but you were angry back in the day.
  • You are sometimes shy and introverted while meeting new people, but you become more expressive and flexible when you get to know them.
  • You know exactly what you want in life, but sometimes you seem pretty lost and confused.

You might feel that the statements mentioned above accurately describe your personality. This is what the majority of the readers will think. And this is the power of rainbow ruse!

Not Admitting that the Guess Was Wrong

The golden rule of cold reading is that you should never admit that your guess was wrong. Rather, you just keep talking about the issue in a way that the subject thinks you were right. For instance, if the prediction ended up being wrong, cold readers just change the meaning of the statement. Or, you can simply say that this is not what you meant and start explaining that you guessed it right. Flipping around the assertions based on the hints given by the subject keeps the cold readers convincing.

Vanishing Negative

Another cold reading technique is loading statements with negative words, such as not or don’t. For instance, cold readers do not form the questions in this way: Do you have any health issues? Instead, they say: “You don’t have any health issues, do you?”. The reason for this is that the subject will most probably remember the general topic of the question rather than the exact sequence of the sentence.

If the answer to the question is positive, cold readers just continue talking about the issue. If the answer is negative, the cold reader would simply say: “Exactly, I didn’t think so.

This type of approach helps cold readers receive guidance from the subjects themselves. They throw out vague statements and let the subject fill in the gaps.

Jacques Statements

Jacques statements are assertions that are derived considering the stages of our lives. The vague statements can be generalized for different age groups. For instance, cold readers usually talk about anxiety and depression in the case of teenagers. If the subject is in his/her forties or fifties, cold readers might talk about achieved goals. The statements are based on the events that we all experience at a particular stage of life.

Observation of Physical Characteristics and Body Language

While some of the cold readers just memorize general statements and use them while talking to the subject, there are lots of mentalists and psychics who observe physical traits and body language of an individual. They pay attention to the colors dominating in the subject’s clothes and accessories, their haircut, manner of speech, movement patterns, facial expressions, and reactions to different types of assertions. Then, they derive some high-possibility predictions.

Individuals observing these traits learn what the specific characteristic or facial expression means. They can tell whether the subject is lying or telling the truth. Such observations are commonly used during criminal investigations and for uncovering mysterious occurrences.


Can I Learn How to Cold Read?

While only gifted people can foresee the future and provide psychic predictions, anyone can learn how to cold read. Cold reading has nothing to do with supernatural powers and occult practices. Rather, it is just a set of techniques used for revealing personal traits and thoughts of a subject.

To become a cold reader, you will just need to learn how to talk to the subject. You can either memorize some universal statements that we have discussed above or explore the nature of human behavior and appearance. If you combine both techniques, the resulting guesses will be much more accurate and straight to the point.


Is Cold Reading Accurate?

Briefly saying, Yes, cold reading is an accurate technique. The reason for this is that cold readers retrieve most of the information from the subjects themselves. Therefore, the subject is the one who affects the outcome of the reading. Cold readers just talk about vague topics and let the subject guide them to the truth.

In the case of cold reading techniques using general statements for the subject to fill in the gaps, the reader is just trying to fool the customer. These techniques are commonly involved in organized psychic scams. Fraudsters issue some vague statements for the subject to make a connection with his/her life. Unfortunately, the assertions can be applied to a wide array of people, not to the specific individuals.

On the contrary, individuals observing body language and facial expressions provide much more accurate readings. First, they learn how to read body language and what each facial expression tells about the subject. Then, they examine how your body responds to different statements and provide readings based on your reactions.

To avoid cold reading scams, you should always be careful while talking to a cold reader. Try not to share any additional information and pay attention to the type of questions they ask. If you feel that the statements are too vague, do not fill in the gaps. Moreover, you should never try to find a correlation between the story a cold reader tells and your life. Also, do not wear clothes and accessories that speak for you. Instead, choose a casual outfit that cannot say anything about your personality.


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