Shrewd observation

Some sceptics suggest that psychics rely on shrewd observation of the client to derive clues about character, career and interests. I feel this notion may owe a great deal to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. In these justly famous tales, the flamboyant detective sometimes demonstrates his ability to deduce many specific details about a person purely by shrewd observation.

This technique is indeed one factor in cold reading. Most cold readers have their own favourite tale of achieving an outstanding 'hit' through shrewd observation (I have mine, and we will get to it later). However, this method clearly does not offer a comprehensive mechanism for psychic readings. Some psychics give readings to clients over the radio, by phone, or by post. Others frequently produce information which could not feasibly be attributed to such clues.

I would like to add that in my experience, the potential for deducing information in this way is far more limited in real life than it is made to seem in fiction, or in sceptical literature about cold reading. However, even accepting that deductive observation can sometimes work very well, this is in some ways an irrelevance. Cold reading is not primarily concerned with providing accurate information, howsoever obtained. It is about applying a deceptive strategy to appear to provide information, when in fact there is little or none to offer.

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