Barnum Statements

These are artfully generalised character statements which a majority of people, if asked, will consider to be a reasonably accurate description of themselves. Here is a selection:

"You have a strong need for people to like and respect you."

"You tend to feel you have a lot of unused capacity, and that people don't always give you full credit for your abilities."

"Some of your hopes and goals tend to be pretty unrealistic."

"You are an independent and original thinker; you don't just accept what people tell you to believe."

The name derives from P.T. Barnum, a legendary showman and circus-owner, who was said to have 'something to please everybody'. Barnum statements have been the subject of a number of studies conducted by psychologists. In one study, students were given what they were told were individual astrological readings, based on their birth dates and star signs. They were then asked to rate the accuracy of the readings. The great majority of the students rated their readings as highly accurate. Only then was it revealed that in fact the 'readings' were all identical. The all-purpose reading merely consisted of several Barnum Statements strung together. (See Appendix note 5 for references.)

Obviously, a reading made up in this way would be rather limited in scope. However, it would be perfectly adequate for some situations.

I have seen more than one article in sceptical literature suggesting that cold reading consists largely of Barnum Statements. This is highly misleading. Barnum Statements may be useful as a way to establish some initial rapport between the psychic and the client, but they are too generalised to sustain a reading of any depth and detail.

Barnum statements and 'forking'

It is possible to get more mileage out of Barnum Statements by combining them with a technique called 'Forking'. We will look at this technique later, under Presentational Points, but let me briefly explain it here.

Take a simple Barnum Statement, like this: "You tend to be quite self-critical."

If the client seems to be broadly in agreement with this, the psychic can develop and strengthen the idea:

"You often give yourself quite a hard time over mistakes and shortcomings which perhaps other people wouldn't worry about. You have a tendency to be your own worst enemy in this regard, and this self-critical side to your character has held you back on more than one occasion."

On the other hand, if the client seems to reject the initial statement, the psychic can develop the same theme in the opposite direction, like this:

"But this tendency is one you have learned to overcome, and these days it rarely comes to the fore. You have learned to accept yourself, and to be reconciled with your own special mix of gifts and skills. You have learned how damaging it can be to be too self-critical, and all credit to you for having matured past the self-critical stage."

In other words, the psychic is prepared to follow each Barnum Statement with one of two supplementary statements, either to strengthen the initial idea or reverse it. In this way, plain and simple Barnum Statements can provide the basis for some relatively sophisticated readings.

Progress Review

This concludes the first group of elements, which concerned character and personality. Now we can move on to the second group, concerning facts and events in the client's life.

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