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The Top Four Cold Reading Myths

There are enough myths and misunderstandings (mythunderstandings?) about cold reading to fill a book. In no particular order, here are four of the commonest ones that I deal with every single year!

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1. "Cold reading is about pretending to be psychic".

This is so inaccurate it ought to win some sort of prize for talented inaccuracy. First of all, many people who claim to be psychic never give personal readings, and many people who give personal readings never claim to be psychic.

Secondly, some people who give personal genuinely and sincerely feel they have some sort of psychic gift. They are not 'pretending' anything. Whether they actually possess some sort of psychic talent is of course open to question, but it is incorrect to say they are pretending or deliberately trying to deceive anyone. I've many people whom I personally wouldn't consider to be 'psychic', but I respect the fact that they sincerely believed in their 'gift'.

Thirdly, many people use cold reading techniques in contexts that have nothing to do with giving personal readings. I do this myself, and I teach other people how to do it. See the separate page on Applied Cold Reading (ACR). 

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2. "Cold reading is about reading 'body language' ".

This oft-cited claim is more wrong than King Wrong of Wrong Land on 'Let's be more wrong than ever' day.

First of all, it's absurd to try to reduce cold reading to one technique or method. It involves dozens of different techniques and strategies, most of which are fascinating to anyone interested in skilled, successful communication.

Secondly, it's fair to say the vast majority of readers only make use of body language to the same extent as the rest of us. For example, you can probably tell just by looking whether someone is feeling confident or nervous, communicative or not, happy or worried about something. Readers do this too, of course, but that's not quite the same as saying 'cold reading is about body language'.

It's also worth bearing in mind that some people give readings in situations where they cannot see the client (e.g. by phone or over the internet without a visual link.)

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3. "Cold reading is about 'fishing' for clues".

No it isn't -- well, not very often and not to any great extent. Some cold reading styles may involve fishing for feedback, yes, but that's not quite the same thing. However, the fact remains that an experienced reader does not need to 'fish' for clues, since she does not need clues to deliver a perfectly good reading.

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4. "Cold reading involves making vague statements that could apply to anyone".

This is incorrect, but at least it is based on a genuine bit of cold reading strategy.

A so-called 'Barnum statement' is one that can sound quite specific to one person but which in fact would apply to a large percentage of the population. One example is, 'On the whole, you tend to be a little more honest and reliable than people around you'.

It's true that some readers may use a Barnum statement once in a while. However, it's also true that some readers never use them or need to. Also, the fact that a reader may occasionally use a Barnum statement in a reading is not to say the reading will be 'vague'. I once gave a reading under test conditions, for the media, which was rated as '99.5% accurate'. What's vague about that?

The most you can say is that Barnum statements are just one cold reading technique among many others.

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