You enter the theatre to hear what the psychic you have come to see can tell the audience. You’ve paid your entry fee, milled around excitedly in the lobby beforehand and now the lights are dimming. The psychic gives you the preamble – negative energies interfere with the spirits, no guarantees that your loved one will come through, the spirit world is very different to our own world – when s/he looks at you and says “I’m getting an older lady, a grandmother, she died after complications during a routine operation. I’m getting a pain in the muscles of my stomach … I want to say “hernia”, does that sound familiar to you?” Quite rightly you are amazed – no questions have been asked, you are one face in a hundred. How on earth could the psychic know this? Could their powers be real?

We have looked at cold reading and Forer Statements previously, but these are not the only weapons in the psychics arsenal. Hot Reading is a very effective tool, especially when used alongside cold reading. In some ways, it is a very obvious con but it uses the selective memory and need for positive reinforcement that we all have. The likelihood of this is that while you were happily milling around in the lobby of the theatre, you engaged in conversation with a friendly person. They would have elicited, either directly or indirectly, who you wanted to hear from and what happened to them and they would have recorded it or written it down, known where you were sitting and passed that onto the psychic. Having a close relative die of something unusual is great (for them) because it’s memorable and not easily guessed at – if they can get that information from the “spirit world” surely they must be real. Once you are hooked via hot reading, they can switch to cold reading in the safe knowledge that you are on their side and won’t question their methods.

This is used to best effect by faith healers. In a very well known episode, noted sceptic James Randi put a small team together to work out how famous faith healer Peter Popoff did what he did. By chance, one of the team happened to tune into the same frequency that was being used by Popoff’s wife to transmit details of the audiences ailments. You can view the action here on YouTube. What Popoff did was reprehensible, he took people, many of whom were terminally ill, and he convinced them that he had the power of God flowing through him and with this could diagnose and cure their illnesses. Many of these people stopped their regular medications and treatments and subsequently died. When someone asks “What’s the harm in doing these fake sessions?” remind them of Popoff. In the meantime, Popoff and similar fraudsters have moved onto another town or city and never have to be confronted with the harm they have caused.

This is harder to defend against than cold reading as gaining prior knowledge can be done in many ways: they can question you directly, they can ask your friends and family in “normal” conversation or other sessions, they may see inside your home and get an idea of your tastes, likes and dislikes, or if you are famous enough just hit you up on Google. However, you are now aware of more of the tools of the trade and you should be able to notice when these things are being used against you – particularly if their investigations throws up incorrect information.

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