According to Wikipedia, a cold reading is “a series of techniques used by mentalists, illusionists, fortune tellers, psychics, and mediums to determine or express details about another person, often in order to convince them that the reader knows much more about a subject than they actually do. Without prior knowledge of a person, a practiced cold reader can still quickly obtain a great deal of information about the subject by analyzing the person's body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc. Cold readers commonly employ high probability guesses about the subject, quickly picking up on signals from their subjects as to whether their guesses are in the right direction or not, and then emphasizing and reinforcing any chance connections the subjects acknowledge while quickly moving on from missed guesses.”
Techniques to watch for (you’ve easily seen TV psychics use these a lot):
“Shotgunning” (Wikipedia) “A commonly-used cold reading technique used, among others, by television psychics and spiritual mediums. The psychic or reader slowly offers a huge quantity of very general information, often to an entire audience (some of which is very likely to be correct, near correct or at the very least, provocative or evocative to someone present), observes their subjects' reactions (especially their body language), and then narrows the scope, acknowledging particular people or concepts and refining the original statements according to those reactions to promote an emotional response.”
Example: "I sense an older male figure in your life, who wants you to know whilst you may have had disagreements in your life, he still loved you."
“Barnum Statements” (Wikipedia) “named after P.T. Barnum, the American showman) are statements that seem personal, yet apply to many people. And while seemingly specific, such statements are often open-ended or give the reader the maximum amount of "wiggle room" in a reading. They are designed to elicit identifying responses from people. The statements can then be developed into longer and more sophisticated paragraphs and seem to reveal great amounts of detail about a person. The effect relies in part on the eagerness of people to fill in details and make connections between what is said and some aspect of their own lives (often searching their entire life's history to find some connection, or reinterpreting the statement in any number of different possible ways so as to make it apply to themselves). A talented and charismatic reader can sometimes even bully a subject into admitting a connection, demanding over and over that they acknowledge a particular statement as having some relevance and maintaining that they just aren't thinking hard enough, or are repressing some important memory.”
Example: "You had an accident when you were a child involving water.”
“The Rainbow Ruse” (Wikipedia) “The rainbow ruse is a crafted statement which simultaneously awards the subject with a specific personality trait, as well as the opposite of that trait. With such a phrase, a cold reader can "cover all possibilities" and appear to have made an accurate deduction in the mind of the subject, despite the fact that a rainbow ruse statement is vague and contradictory. This technique is used since personality traits are not quantifiable, and also because nearly everybody has experienced both sides of a particular emotion at some time in their lives.”
Example: "I would say that you are mostly shy and quiet, but when the mood strikes you, you can easily become the center of attention."
Perspective: One time, a friend begged me to get a reading after she got one. I humored her. I wasn’t expecting anything extraordinary. Their wasn’t a psychic sensation in the whole shop. I sat down and the woman took my hand and tried the shock factor. “You’re not at fault! You must stop feeling so guilty!” A brilliant technique to make me rush through my mind for anything I might feel guilty about. I gave her credit for technique. Like a good fly fisherman, she cast her line and could have hooked a sucker. Luckily, I expected her to play this game. I not only had no feelings of guilt in my consciousness, but as she spoke, she told me I should consider leaving my boyfriend, he’ll never marry me. (I was married). She proceeded to tell me to repaint the room I painted red (no red in my house-I hate the color). I finally just got up and left while she was in mid sentence. A less savvy person might have replaced "boyfriend" with "husband," and considered "I once thought about painting my room red," anything to make it "fit."
This is not to say psychics don’t exist. I know for a fact that they do, as I myself have skills that I can neither explain or often times control. When you get a reading from a psychic, you need to ask yourself “how specific is this to me, or is it a broad statement that fits many?” “Are they waiting too much for me to respond and lead them in the right direction?” “Is this the kind of thing I might hear from a counselor and advisor?”
Someone tapping into you psychically should be able to give you extraordinary details about your life, odd facts that would not be commonly guessed by anyone. They shouldn’t be asking you to make decisions based on their findings, have you pour your heart out to them so that they know too much of your personal lives and therefore can lead you into thinking they know you so well, or request that you come back again and again.
I’ll be brutally honest. Anyone making money as a psychic may not have your best interests in mind. It’s a business. One in which you coming back is critically important, just like your counselor or psychiatrist. Your dependence on them assures their income. We don’t have any regulations on psychics, no testing, certification, or a board of examiners like medical professionals have. As a consumer, you need to be educated, suspicious, and cautious. When you go forth to use a psychic and shell out money, consider it purely entertainment.