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Laboratory Test Shows Psychics Aren’t Psychic (But Here’s How You Can Pretend To Be)

A controlled trial found that psychics lacked sight, but here are some tricks to help you fake it

The Crystal Ball. Photo: Mira D’Oubliette, Painting: J.W. Waterhouse

The nice thing about science is that if you’re unsure how some aspect of the world works—whether you believe in it or not—you can come up with a way to test your ideas, cut through your initial bias and get a nice, clean answer.

In this vein, researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London set up a blinded study to test whether or not two professional psychics really have the power of sight. (Spoiler: They don’t.)

The two psychics, Patricia Putt and Kim Whitton, were individually sat behind a wall. Five volunteers then sat in turn on the other side of the wall. Putt and Whitton were tasked with writing down characteristics that would describe the volunteers. After all the notes were scrawled, the volunteers had to pick from the pile which list of characteristics best described them—a test of how accurate the psychic’s visions had been. A release from Goldsmiths said:

Upon analysing the results, neither Kim nor Patricia scored more than one hit from the five readings.

Professor French explained: “Kim and Patricia felt they’d have no trouble in passing this test. Despite expressing confidence throughout the experiment, neither were able to gain more than a single correct reading, a result entirely consistent with the operation of chance alone.”

According to the BBC, one of the psychics said that ‘this experiment “doesn’t prove a thing’.” And as with all science, more experiments can be done. In the mean time, the question remains as to why some psychics can be so darn convincing. The trick, says the Skeptics Society, is all in the delivery.

According to this Skeptics Society package, designed to teach you how to pass as a psychic medium, some of the key things you can do to pass as a real psychic are to:

  • Set the stage for an intimate, comfortable, experience. Establish your Psychic authoritywith props such as important looking charts, or bookcases full of reference books.
  • Project a sympathetic personality. Put your client in a receptive, cooperative mood by explaining that a reading is a team effort
  • Extract information from your client by disguising questions as statements
  • Appeal to the authority of ancient wisdom and mysterious secrets by peppering your reading with esoteric jargon

On top of these tricks of presentation, the key is to know the sorts of things that people like to talk about, such as: work, family, their future goals or money. From there, a back-and-forth of asking deliberately open-ended or broad questions can get people to give enough detail to really focus in on some specific event.

More from Smithsonian.com:
The Spirited Story of the Psychic and the Colonel

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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