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hot reading

Hot reading is a technique used by psychics, mediums, palm readers, and the like that involves surreptitiously gaining information from clients. For example, a medium who claims to get messages from the dead will chat up the audience members before a performance and gather information from them. Later, when the psychic does a reading and seems to make contact with a young man's mother, even the young man won't remember that he told the psychic before the show that he wanted to connect with his mother. The psychic might have her agent bring a couple to the performance and when the psychic reveals to all that the couple's son committed suicide, everyone is convinced she's made contact. She may have--with her agent before the show to get this information. (See Penn & Teller's Bullshit!, episode one of the first season. Click here to watch the scene on YouTube.) The psychic may have an accomplice who chats you up, listens in on your conversations while you are waiting for the reading to begin, or who collects written information from you that is later used in the performance. (Watch the video here, if it hasn't been removed.)

At least one faith healer, Peter Popoff, has pretended to get messages from a god when he was really getting messages from his wife via an earpiece (Randi 1989: ch. 9; "Secrets of the Psychics"). Mrs. Popoff got her information from cards that the believers fill out when they attend the faith healing exhibition.

Some palm readers might go through a client's purse or have an accomplice do so, in order to garner information about the client. For a detailed description of the lengths to which some psychics will go to get information about clients see Lamar M. Keene's  The Psychic Mafia (1997). He describes a network of psychics who keep card files on clients and share information that can be useful in duping people about psychic abilities.

[Note: Some people use the expression warm reading to refer to using Barnum statements or the like, e.g., Peter Huston. Ian Rowland, Bob Steiner, and Ray Hyman consider such statements as part of a cold reading. Others use warm reading to refer to "utilizing known principles of psychology that apply to nearly everyone,"  e.g., Michael Shermer. What Shermer gives as an example of warm reading, Ray Hyman and Ian Rowland would give as an example of cold reading. Many grieving people will wear a piece of jewelry that has a connection to their loved one. To claim to get some sort of message about a piece of jewelry belonging to the deceased while doing a reading will often shock a client, who will make the connection and take your message as a sign you have made contact with the other side.]

See also cold reading, confirmation bias, medium, psychic, selective thinking, self-deception, subjective validation, testimonial, warm reading, and wishful thinking.

further reading

Dickson, D.H., & Kelly, I.W. "The 'Barnum effect' in personality assessment: A review of the literature," Psychological Reports, 57, 367-382, (1985).

Hyman, Ray. "'Cold Reading': How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them," The Skeptical Inquirer Spring/Summer 1977.

Hyman, Ray. The Elusive Quarry : A Scientific Appraisal of Psychical Research (Prometheus Books, 1989).

Keene, M. Lamar. The Psychic Mafia (Prometheus, 1997).

Randi, James. Flim-Flam! (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books,1982).

Randi, James. The Faith Healers (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1989).

Randi, James. Video. "Secrets of the Psychics." James Randi reveals the secrets of the psychics and self-deceptive workings of the human mind.

Rowland, Ian. The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading, 3rd. ed (2000).

Steiner, Robert A. Don't Get Taken! - Bunco and Bunkum Exposed - How to Protect Yourself (Wide-Awake Books 1989).

Last updated 27-Oct-2015

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