Specific generalisations

Couttie (1988) coined the term "specific generalisations" to describe items that ostensibly are very specific, but still are meaningful to most people. These items exploit the maxim that we are essentially more alike than different but that we are generally not aware of our similarity (see, e.g., Snyder & Fromkin, 1980). Jones (1989) effectively characterises specific generalisations when he states

Each of us likes to think of ourselves as unique, with problems and needs and goals that sets us apart from all the others. We're not. Although we may mistrust generalities, whether we like it or not, there is a commonality about our fears, wants, and aspirations that make them predictable ... Psychic readers recognise this, and use it to their advantage. (p. 10).

Couttie (1988) even recommends that the reader give the client a general run-down on the reader's own life-story, hopes and fears, angled as though it was the client's, in order to illustrate just how impressively accurate this can be. Also included here is the traditional "cradle-to-the-grave" reading, which extends the principle of similarity to suggest that most of us go through the same stages in life, and at roughly the same ages. It has even been suggested (e.g. Ruthchild, 1981) that psychics make use of life-span development books for stimulus material. A popular lay account of life-span development by Gail Sheehy (Sheehy, 1976) is a common recommendation (e.g. Martin, 1990).

As well as going through similar life events to one another, we can also relate to specific but relatively common events. Typical examples include; the death of an older male with a heart condition, the death of a very young (or unborn) child, a divorce affecting someone the client knows well, and so on. In a similar vein, Couttie (1988) suggests trying not-too-rare names like Ann, Mary, Joan, John, Arthur, Joseph (remembering that the further North [in the United Kingdom] you go the more traditional the names are likely to be) ... keep away from Smith, but you could try Williams, Willcox, Robinson or Clark. (p. 137).

And the sources of this general knowledge can be quite surprising:

I find that psychology and statistics provide a lot of these good general lines. Collect items from Psychology Today, Readers Digest, or a newspaper, statistics like '83% of American women over the age of 21 say that they ...' (Martin, 1990: 98)

Associating the generality with something that is unique to the client (such as the lines of the palm, or the particular arrangement of cards) serves to draw attention away from its general applicability.

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