Tag Archives: Unnatural Acts that can improve your thinking

Psychic Tricks, Fraud and Forer

Forer Effect

via Unnatural Acts that can improve your thinking

forerThe Forer effect refers to the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements were not made about them personally and could apply to many people.

Psychologist Bertram R. Forer (1914-2000) found that people tend to accept vague and general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves without realizing that the same description could be applied to many people. Consider the following as if it were given to you as an evaluation of your personality.

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

Forer gave a personality test to his students, ignored their answers, and gave each student the above evaluation (taken from a newsstand astrology column). He asked them to evaluate the evaluation from 0 to 5, with “5” meaning the recipient felt the evaluation was an “excellent” assessment and “4” meaning the assessment was “good.” The class average evaluation was 4.26. That was in 1948. The test has been repeated hundreds of time with psychology students and the average is still around 4.2 out of 5, or 84% accurate.

In short, Forer convinced people he could successfully read their character. His accuracy amazed his subjects, though his personality analysis was taken from a newsstand astrology column and was presented to people without regard to their sun sign. The Forer effect seems to explain, in part at least, why so many people think that pseudosciences “work”. Astrology, astrotherapy, biorhythms, cartomancy, chiromancy, the enneagram, fortune telling, graphology, rumpology, etc., seem to work because they seem to provide accurate personality analyses. crystal_ball_01Scientific studies of these pseudosciences demonstrate that they are not valid personality assessment tools, yet each has many satisfied customers who are convinced they are accurate.

The most common explanations given to account for the Forer effect are in terms of hope, wishful thinking, vanity, and the tendency to try to make sense out of experience. Forer’s own explanation was in terms of human gullibility. People tend to accept claims about themselves in proportion to their desire that the claims be true rather than in proportion to the empirical accuracy of the claims as measured by some non-subjective standard. We tend to accept questionable, even false statements about ourselves, if we deem them positive or flattering enough. We will often give very liberal interpretations to vague or inconsistent claims about ourselves in order to make sense out of the claims. Subjects who seek counseling from psychics, mediums, fortune tellers, mind readers, graphologists, etc., will often ignore false or questionable claims and, in many cases, by their own words or actions, will provide most of the information they erroneously attribute to a pseudoscientific counselor. Many such subjects often feel their counselors have provided them with profound and personal information. Such subjective validation, however, is of little scientific value.

Continue Reading here . . .

James Randi‘s fiery takedown of psychic fraud

via http://www.ted.com

Legendary skeptic James Randi takes a fatal dose of homeopathic sleeping pills onstage, kicking off a searing 18-minute indictment of irrational beliefs. He throws out a challenge to the world’s psychics: Prove what you do is real, and I’ll give you a million dollars. (No takers yet.)

The Tricks

Via http://www.projectbarnum.co.uk (Archived) (Original Link)

• Cold Reading

Making vague statements that will fit most people if they want them to

Cold reading is a series of techniques employed by psychics, mediums and mentalists that are used to manipulate the customer (sitter) into believing that the psychic can read their mind, or that the medium is in contact with a dead relative or friend.

A cold reading will involved things that are called ‘Forer Statements’ (or or Barnum statements) which are designed to encourage the sitter to fill in the gaps in the information being given. Though these statements may appear to be specific they are really very open-ended and vague and could really apply to anyone. Experiments have shown how similar statements can be taken personally when issued to dozens of people at the same time!

Some examples of such statements would be:

  • “I sense that you are sometimes insecure, especially with people you don’t know very well.”
  • “You work with computers”
  • “You’re having problems with a friend or relative”

Here is ‘psychic’ James Van Prag demonstrating what appears to be a very embarrassing cold reading:

• Rainbow Ruse

Ticking all potential boxes by making all-encompassing descriptions

Similar to Forer statements is the “rainbow ruse” which involves a statement that covers all possibilities and often describe somebody as being two completely different types of person at the same time. Here are some examples:

  • “Most of the time you are positive and cheerful, but there has been a time in the past when you were very upset.”
  • “You are a very kind and considerate person, but occasionally you feel deep-seated anger.”
  • “I would say that you are mostly shy and quiet, but when the mood strikes you, you can easily become the centre of attention.”

• Hot/warm Reading

Using information gained before the show about the audience

Then there is hot (or warm) reading. This is a form of cheating and happens when a Medium or Psychic secretly gathers information about members of the audience in order that they may use this in their performance but pass it off as being a result of their psychic gift.

Additonally, they may research the location they are performing in, and may even invite those recently bereaved whose details they can extract from local sources (newspapers, websites, discussion groups), and the internet. They might ask people to request readings by filling in cards or forms in the foyer, or they might require people give their names when they book tickets and then use this information to simply google them.

Here is an example of someone using ‘hot reading’ to fool their audience into thinking they’re receiving messages from a supernatural source, when they’re not.

• Shotgunning

Making random statements in the hope someone will make them fit

This is another tactic which involves revealing a huge amount of very general information to a whole audience and seeing what sticks. A psychic or medium will likely generate many, many misses when they employ these techniques but because of the way our brains work when we want to believe something very badly, many will leave the performance only remembering apparent ‘hits’ or correct guesses.

A typical Psychic or Medium will use all of these techniques in the course of a performance and a skilled cold reader will be able to spin out the brief sentences and statements into paragraphs of psychic prose.

It is worth noting that some Mediums or Psychics may be just naturally good cold readers and don’t realise that what they’re doing isn’t the result of a supernatural gift.

Source: http://www.projectbarnum.co.uk (Archived)


Learn how psychics work by reading the Psychic Pamphlet (Via Granit State Skeptics).

The Halo Effect

via Unnatural Acts that can improve your thinking

halo_effect 1126The halo effect refers to a bias whereby the perception of a positive trait in a person or product positively influences further judgments about traits of that person or products by the same manufacturer. One of the more common halo effects is the judgment that a good looking person is intelligent and amiable.

There is also a reverse halo effect whereby perception of a negative or undesirable trait in individuals, brands, or other things influences further negative judgments about the traits of that individual, brand, etc. If a person “looks evil” or “looks guilty” you may judge anything he says or does with suspicion; eventually you may feel confident that you have confirmed your first impression with solid evidence when, in fact, your evidence is completely tainted and conditioned by your first impression. The hope that the halo effect will influence a judge or jury is one reason some criminal lawyers might like their clients to be clean-shaven and dressed neatly when they appear at trial.

The phrase was coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1920 to describe the way commanding officers rated their soldiers. He found that officers usually judged their men as being either good or bad “right across the board. There was little mixing of traits; few people were said to be good in one respect but bad in another.”* The old saying that first impressions make lasting impressions is at the heart of the halo effect. If a soldier made a good (or bad) first impression on his commanding officer, that impression would influence the officer’s judgment of future behavior. It is  very unlikely that given a group of soldiers every one of them would be totally good or totally bad at everything, but the evaluations seemed to indicate that this was the case. More likely, however, the earlier perceptions either positively or negatively affected those later perceptions and judgments.

The halo effect seems to ride on the coattails of confirmation bias: once we’ve made a judgment about positive or negative traits, that judgment influences future perceptions so that they confirm our initial judgment.

Some researchers have found evidence that student evaluations of their college instructors are formed and remain stable after only a few minutes or hours in class.  If a student evaluated a teacher highly early on in the course, he or she was likely to rank the teacher highly at the end of the course. Unfortunately, for those teachers who made bad first impressions on the students, their performance over the course of the term would be largely irrelevant to how they would be perceived by their students.

MORE . . .

Anecdotal Evidence (testimonials)

via Unnatural Acts that can improve your thinking

anecdote_250pxTestimonials and anecdotes are used to support claims in many fields. Advertisers often rely on testimonials to persuade consumers of the effectiveness or value of their products or services. Others use anecdotes to drive home the horror of some alleged activity or the danger of widely-used electronic devices like cell phones. In the mid-90s, there were many people, some in law enforcement, claiming that Satanists were abducting and abusing children on a massive scale. The anecdotes involved vivid descriptions of horrible sexual abuse, even murder of innocent children. The anecdotes were quite convincing, especially when they were repeated on nationally televised programs with popular hosts like Geraldo Rivera. A four-year study in the early 1990s found the allegations of satanic ritual abuse to be without merit. Researchers investigated more than 12,000 accusations and surveyed more than 11,000 psychiatric, social service, and law enforcement personnel. The researchers could find no unequivocal evidence for a single case of satanic cult ritual abuse.

There have also been scares fueled by anecdotes regarding such disparate items as silicone breast implants, cell phones, and vaccinations. In the 1990s many women blamed their cancers and other diseases on breast implants. Talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey and Jenny Jones presented groups of women who were suffering from cancer or some other serious disease and who had been diagnosed after they’d had breast implants. The stories tugged at the heartstrings and brought tears to many sensitive eyes, but the scientific evidence did not exist that there was a causal connection between the implants and any disease. That fact did not prevent lawyers from extorting $4.25 billion from implant manufacturers. Marcia Angell, former executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, brought the wrath of feminist hell upon herself in 1992 when she wrote an editorial challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to ban the manufacture of silicone breast implants. The scientific evidence wasn’t there to justify the ban. She eventually wrote a book describing the fiasco: Science on Trial: The Clash of Medical Evidence and the Law in the Breast Implant Case. The scientific evidence is now in. The implants don’t cause cancer or other diseases, and the FDA has lifted its ban. When the data were collected, they showed that women with silicone breast implants did not suffer cancer or any other disease at a significantly higher rate than women who had not had implants.

The public fear that cellphones might be causing brain tumors was first aroused not by scientists but by a talk show host. On January 23, 1993, Larry King’s guest was David Reynard, who announced that he and his wife Susan had sued NEC and GTE on the grounds that the cellphone David gave Susan caused his wife’s brain tumor. There was nothing but junk science to back up her claim, plus the fact that . . .

MORE . . .

%d bloggers like this: