Psychics' secrets simple

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Photo Credit: Ploy Buraparate | Daily Texan Staff

Remember last year when all the banks around the world merged into one? What about Paris Hilton’s unexpected marriage? Or how about when a solar star dwarf, whatever that is, broke off from the sun, causing serious damage to our planet? No? Maybe it’s because none of these things actually happened in 2012, even though psychics predicted that they would.

One cannot definitively say there are no “true” psychics, just as no one can definitively say that there’s no Bigfoot in the forests, aliens in the sky or good Chinese food in Austin — all one can do is point out is that psychic predictions are hit-or-miss, with a heavy emphasis on the miss.

Or, to put it another way, psychics who swear their powers are real don’t perform any better than self-proclaimed fakes, who use simple techniques that exploit human psychology to create the illusion of clairvoyance.

In 1949, psychologist Bertram Forer gave his class a personality test and then, a week later, returned with evaluations providing analysis of the individual students’ character traits. When asked, the students said they found the analysis very accurate — only one of the 39 ranked the effectiveness of the test below a four out of five.

There was a catch, though. Every one of those personalized evaluations said the exact same thing.

The content of the analysis consisted of sentences taken from an astrology book, and included statements such as “You have a great need for people to like and admire you” and “Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you,” which are true of virtually everybody, to one degree or another. When presented together in a scientific manner, like a personality test, or a metaphysical one, like a psychic reading, it’s easy to mistake their universality for profundity.

And this is the effect induced by an unpersonalized paragraph — imagine how much better you could do if you’re in the same room as someone, able to pick up on body language, reactions and, most importantly, their desire to fill in the blanks for you.

The de facto manual on this is Ian Rowland’s book “The Cold Facts Book of Cold Reading,” which offers a slew of tips for would-be fraud psychics. The process requires no extrasensory powers, just a little practice and a willingness to deceive.

The main ideas come down to basic psychology. People often have an inflated opinion of themselves and nobody will argue too much if you say something flattering — sensing that your mark is “kindhearted” or “good friend” will start you out on the right foot during a psychic reading.

Questions that sound like statements are also effective. “Are you an only child?” can be counted as a hit no matter how the subject answers — “No, I’m not” can garner a psychic’s response of, “I didn’t think so,” whereas “Yes, I am” requires nothing more than a smile and a nod.

From here, the subject will more or less lead you down a path where you can make educated guesses that sound right. Eventually, in your predictions you may come up with a genuine miss — a statement with a reaction of, “No. That’s not right at all.” 

Remain calm. You might take this opportunity to remind your subject that psychic powers are mysterious and more of an art than a science, so you’re not going to be right all of the time. 

Another option is to rephrase the statement as something metaphorical. For example, “No, you didn’t have an actual puppy. What I meant is that you have the outlook of a puppy, full of wonder about the world around you.” 

And, of course, when all else fails, blame the subject for blocking your connection to the spirit world by not keeping an open enough mind.

These techniques may seem obvious and transparent, but people have an obvious desire to want to believe in psychics. As we enter adulthood, we need to make more and more decisions for ourselves. It would be nice to think that somebody has all the answers and can walk us down the right path. Unfortunately, there isn’t. Nobody knows how your choices will play out and you’re going to make mistakes. It’s better to make them on your own than let a charlatan with a crystal ball make them for you.