Summary

This chapter began by describing how subjectively impressive psychic readings have been accounted for in terms of deceptive practices known as cold reading. Existing characterisations of cold reading were criticised as too vague and inconsistent to be useful. A new model of cold reading strategies was elaborated, informed by a review of magic literature concerned with pseudopsychic techniques, and by an exploratory study with a practicing pseudopsychic. These suggested that cold reading may be more usefully regarded as consisting of a number of discrete strategies which generate information about the client in different ways. These strategies were described and illustrated. The methods were characterised as falling into a hierarchical arrangement. Those lower down the hierarchy are effective under conditions of impoverished feedback, but are capable of only relatively general information. Indeed, their primary purpose often is to act as a platform for more sophisticated methods, since the generation of more specific information by 'higher' strategies can be dependent upon the use of more basic methods to provide the material necessary to encourage reactions from the client or to misdirect them away from their own contributions.

The information produced by the basic use of a stock spiel (made up of Barnum statements, specific generalisations and specific trivia) is qualitatively different from that produced by the more sophisticated methods. When used together with more interactive techniques, these strategies can provide a well balanced reading which deals equally well with the general picture as it does with specific details. Thus it is as likely to tell a client that she will live to a ripe old age as it is that she has three cats and a dog. Very little work has been done to find out what type of information or advice is most likely to convince the client of their paranormal origin, but it is not necessarily the most specific or improbable items. Richards (1990) illustrates this when he states

A reading might contain the evidential statement that, "You have a husband with a glass eye", but the value derived from the reading is assigned by the client to statements like, "You need to relax more at home and communicate more effectively with your husband." (p. 278).

This account of the pseudopsychic reading draws attention to the fact that all the information emanates from the client in one way or another, making it very unlikely that she will be presented with material that is particularly new or surprising to her. It is unlikely, then, that the primary reason for the success of many psychic readings is the psychic or predictive function, and it is suggested that the primary role may be as a therapeutic, quasi-counselling event.

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