The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Psychic Parasites

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 10, 2009

A few days ago I saw an article on CNN.com titled “Psychic’s business booming in tough economy.” It seems that when times are tough, such as in the current economic crisis, there are many people who are looking for some kind of reassurance and guidance for what to do. And, sadly, when there are people who are desperate, there are those parasitic scumbags who will take advantage of them – specifically, psychics.

psychic

And it seems that the kind of people who are flocking to some psychics are those involved in high-finance and business…

As the economy tanks, [psychic] Usleman’s business is booming.

“It’s more types of people I have never seen before,” says Usleman. “Men in the business world, high-powered jobs, stock market, Wall Street.”

Since last fall, she says she began to see a new type of client — a “logical, [A-type] of personality.” Many of them are “just completely lost,” says Usleman.

Relationship advice, typically the bread and butter of the psychic business, has been supplanted by something new.

“Should I merge with this company? Should I bring in a partner to my company,” are the kind of questions Usleman gets from her clients.

I don’t know about you, but this article sent a bit of a chill up my spine. This is eerily similar to something I blogged about earlier – in my post Stars & Superstition – called financial astrology, where some financial advisers & investors actually use the thoroughly useless pseudoscience of astrology to make big financial decisions.

Like astrology, consulting a psychic seriously is to simply engage in all manner of magical thinking. The primary technique by which pretty much any psychic performs their “miracles” is a well-known psychological tactic called cold reading. One of the best books on the subject of cold reading is Ian Rowland’s Full Facts Book of Cold Reading – which clearly outlines the techniques by which psychics either intentionally or unintentionally do their readings. Here are some basics to cold reading

1. Remember that the key ingredient of a successful character reading is confidence.

If you look and act as if you believe in what you are doing, you will be able to sell even a bad reading to most subjects. One danger of playing the role of reader is that you may actually begin to believe that you really are divining your subject’s true character!

2. Make creative use of the latest statistical abstracts, polls and surveys.

These can provide you with much information about what various subclasses in our society believe, do, want , worry about etc. For example, if you can ascertain a subject’s place of origin, educational level, and his/her parents’ religion and vocations, you have gained information which should allow you to predict with high probability his/her voting preferences and attitudes to many subjects.

3. Set the stage for your reading.

Profess a modesty about your talents. Make no excessive claims. You will then catch your subject off guard. You are not challenging them to a battle of wits – You can read his/her character, whether he/she believes you or not.

4. Gain the subject’s cooperation in advance.

Emphasise that the success of the reading depends as much on the subject’s cooperation as on your efforts. (After all, you imply, you already have a successful career at character reading – You are not on trial, your subject is!) State that due to difficulties of language and communication, you may not always convey the meaning you intend. In these cases, the subject must strive to fit the reading to his/her own life. You accomplish two valuable ends with this dodge – Firstly, you have an alibi in case the reading doesn’t click; it’s the subject’s fault, not yours! Secondly, your subject will strive to fit your generalities to his/her specific life circumstances. Later, when the subject recalls the reading, you will be credited with much more detail than you actually provided! This is crucial. Your reading will only succeed to the degree that the subject is made an active participant in the reading. The good reader is the one who , deliberately or unwittingly, forces the subject to search his/her mind to make sense of your statements.

5. Use a gimmick, such as Tarot cards, crystal ball, palm reading etc.

Use of props serves two valuable purposes. Firstly, it lends atmosphere to the reading. Secondly, (and more importantly) it gives you time to formulate your next question/statement. Instead of just sitting there, thinking of something to say, you can be intently studying the cards /crystal ball etc. You may opt to hold hands with your subject – This will help you feel the subject’s reactions to your statements. If you are using , say, palmistry (the reading of hands) it will help if you have studied some manuals, and have learned the terminology. This will allow you to more quickly zero in on your subject’s chief concerns – “do you wish to concentrate on the heart line or the wealth line?”

6. Have a list of stock phrases at the tip of your tongue.

Even during a cold reading, a liberal sprinkling of stock phrases will add body to the reading and will help you fill in time while you formulate more precise characterisations. Use them to start your readings. Palmistry, tarot and other fortune telling manuals are a key source of good phrases.

7. Keep your eyes open!

Use your other senses as well. Size the subject up by observing his/her clothes, jewellery, mannerisms and speech. Even a crude classification based on these can provide the basis for a good reading. Also, watch carefully for your subject’s response to your statements – You will soon learn when you are hitting the mark!

8. Use the technique of fishing.

This is simply a device to get the subject to tell you about his/herself. Then you rephrase what you have been told and feed it back to the subject.

One way of fishing is to phrase each statement as question, then wait for the reply. If the reply or reaction is positive, then you turn the statement into a positive assertion. Often the subject will respond by answering the implied question and then some. Later, the subject will forget that he/she was the source of the information! By making your statements into questions, you also force the subject to search his/her memory to retrieve specific instances to fit your general statement.

9. Learn to be a good listener.

During the course of a reading your client will be bursting to talk about incidents that are brought up. The good reader allows the client to talk at will. On one occasion I observed a tealeaf reader. The client actually spent 75% of the time talking. Afterward when I questioned the client about the reading she vehemently insisted that she had not uttered a single word during the course of the reading. The client praised the reader for having astutely told her what in fact she herself had spoken.

Another value of listening is that most clients that seek the services of a reader actually want someone to listen to their problems. In addition, many clients have already made up their minds about what choices they are going to make. They merely want support to carry out their decision.

10. Dramatise your reading.

Give back what little information you do have or pick up a little bit at a time. Make it seem more than it is. Build word pictures around each divulgence. Don’t be afraid of hamming it up.

11. Always give the impression that you know more than you are saying.

The successful reader, like the family doctor, always acts as if he/she knows much more. Once you have persuaded the subject that you know one item of information that you couldn’t possibly have known (through normal channels) the subject will assume that you know all! At this point, the subject will open up and confide in you.

12. Don’t be afraid to flatter your subject at every opportunity.

An occasional subject will protest, but will still lap it up. In such cases, you can add, “You are always suspicious of those who flatter you. You just can’t believe that someone will say something good about you without an ulterior motive”.

13. Remember the Golden Rule – always tell the subject what he/she wants to hear!

That’s it. If you can gain a decent mastery of those 13 tricks, then you can easily hang out a shingle and out-psychic any psychic scumbags out there. There’s nothing more to it than that!

And that’s what makes this whole thing all the more scary. In these difficult economic times, some of the very people in places of financial power – businesspeople & Wall-Street types – are giving into their fears and allowing that to drive them irrationally into the arms of people who can only give the illusion that they have any clue what they’re talking about. I find that to be pretty damned unsettling.

As a humorous way of cautioning people to be wary of those making psychic claims, here is a spoof video of psychic douchebag John Edward getting Skepticallypwnd😀

Fortunately, the CNN.com article did end on a cautionary note, one which I would pass on to anyone thinking about giving their money to a psychic charlatan

Financial adviser Ryan Mack says adding the cost of a psychic reading into an already stretched budget is not a good investment.

“Regardless of what the stars say, regardless of what the map says in terms of — if Pluto is lined up with Mars,” says Mack. “You have the ability within yourself to save, to plan and to be diligent.”

Sound advice, no psychic powers required. Oh yeah, and it’s free, too.

6 Responses to “Psychic Parasites”

  1. Conspirama said

    Psychic Parasites « The Skeptical Teacher…

    A few days ago I saw an article on CNN.com titled “Psychic’s business booming in tough economy.” It seems that when times are tough, such as in the current economic crisis, there are many people who are looking for some ……

  2. […] Psychic Parasites « The Skeptical Teacher […]

  3. friehey said

    this post is good, it can help me.
    Thanks you

  4. […] recently revealed Ponzi scheme and the role that psychics played in it. In an earlier post, called Psychic Parasites, I outlined how many psychics are playing off people’s fears in these tough economic times, […]

  5. […] Posted by mattusmaximus on April 19, 2009 **Note: For more background on this topic, see previous posts Psychic Failure in Investment Scams and Psychic Parasites. […]

  6. MJ said

    Although I have a belief in both mediumship & the spiritual, I found this video to be hilarious. There are many frauds.
    Therefore, the work of skeptical investigators is needed to help save some of us from our gullible selves.
    All that being said, & despite skepticism everything cannot always be proven in a scientific manner. There are far too many unknown & unmeasurable variables when it comes to the paranormal.
    The idea here is to perhaps find a ‘happy medium’? (no pun intended)
    Has ANY skeptical investigator ever found a medium that they feel is genuine?

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