Understanding Cold reading

Introduction to Cold Reading in Mentalism

Cold reading refers to a set of techniques used by mentalists, psychics, fortune tellers, and mediums to produce convincing psychic readings and seemingly accurate revelations about a person without any prior information about them. It fuel the illusions of being able to read minds, predict events, or communicate with spirits through subtle observations, assumptions and interpretations later confirmed by the subject.

While morally questionable, cold reading is an invaluable skill in the mentalism genre for creating unbelievable personal connections and theatre. Audiences walk away astounded, unaware of the psychological tricks used by the performer. This article will break down what exactly cold reading entails and how one trains at it.

Cold Reading Techniques and Examples

Shotgun Statements

This refers to making very vague statements that could apply to almost anyone by playing on common occurrences, like "You've been struggling with a health issue affecting your lifestyle" or "I sense you have regrets haunting you about a decision from your past." When said with conviction, such shotgun statements usually hit home on something currently significant in the subject's life.

Flattery & Empathy Statements 

Effective cold readers will use compliments, praise, and empathy about a subject's personality, abilities, or background. Saying things like "You seem very wise for your years" or "You have a thirst for knowledge and self-improvement" seems insightfully true for most people. It gains trust quickly.

Trivia Statistics  

Mentioning factual trivia, statistics or common assumptions appropriate for the subject's visible age, gender, background etc. fools them into thinking the mentalist knew these beforehand. Saying "You come from a small family" or a "You lived in 2-3 homes growing up" covers bases without being too specific yet seems personal.

Dual Meaning Interpretations

Making very broad statements with multiple possible interpretations that get twisted later based on the subject's reactions is a classic trick. Saying "I sense a major financial achievement from your past, possibly an inheritance, investment proceeds or even gambling success" covers all bases.

Incidental Matching 

During any reading, the subject's reactions, expressions, body language and confirmations to statements gets constantly monitored to detect bits that resonate most for exploitation by assigning significance to them over ignoring other misses. Small unintended matches often get built into grand reveals.

Vanishing Negative

Statements cast broadly enough allow asserting common experiences almost everyone relates to, including negative outcomes, losses etc. But quickly pivoting focus solely onto confirming reactions from the subject and ignoring non-responses makes the hits stand out while the misses vanish away unnoticed.

How Cold Reading gets Practiced 

Reading Body Language Cues 

A big component of successful cold reading relies on subtly observing physiological changes, micro-expressions and reactions that reveal what statements most impacted the subject even if they say nothing. Eye cues, shifting posture, breathing pace changes etc signal responses.

Expanding on Hits

Skillful cold readers carefully observe response cues from subjects to gauge what topic areas trigger most reactions during a series of broad statements. They then start expanding, embellishing and assigning false specificity around those chance bits that resonated while downplaying rest.

Using Props & Tools

Physical objects can amplify the mystique. Photos, drawings, graphs, strange contraptions etc placed visibly build curiosity but also allow manipulating interpretations. Ex: Asking "Which image stands out?" when all look identical seems like the reader detected something special in what the person chose later. 

Using Accomplices  

Some demonstrations involve plants in the audience covertly communicating or signaling responses to the presenter. binary choices get guided by coded cues. Pre-show scouting can gather intel too. The demonstration seems so unbelievable that people don't imagine actors being involved.

Leveraging Probability & Statistics

Statistically common personal experiences, behaviors, names, timelines etc provide a solid framework upon which to ground declarations during readings so they seem perfectly applicable to the individual based on their visible traits. Any confirmations then validate things instantly with specificity that can't be just lucky guesses.

Using Diverted Attention 

Misdirection is pivotal. The key dramatic delivery moments often involve focus being strongly directed at something like an intense stare, pendulum motions, strange gesture, diverting patter etc. This masks the subtle real info-gathering from audience body language in peripheral vision to guide what statements have credible backing vs. generic fiction.

How to Practice Cold Reading

Self Assessment

Analyzing oneself through the cold reading lens entails listing major life events, personality aspects, quirks, background elements etc. and checking if shotgun statements cover these as practice. Finding broad patterns around career stages, illnesses, losses, achievements etc honed to resonate across demographics via common experiences develops reader skills. 

Observing Strangers   

Practicing cold reading on strangers in public spaces relies more on visually apparent traits and broad assumptions around things like dress sense, grooming, ethnicity, personal mannerisms etc. Followed by shotgun statements and paying close attention to micro expressions when anything said triggers emotional responses.  

Getting Reader Friends

Good practice involves trading cold readings with friends to critique each other's hits vs. misses, body language interpretation, timing, tone, and pacing. Testing statements for resonance across genders, ages and diverse backgrounds helps expand perspective and range. Accepting blunt feedback mutually builds skills.

Understanding Human Psychology

Mastering cold reading has roots in applied psychology more than anything supernatural. Understanding primal drives, cognitive biases, past trauma influences, the power of self-deception and willingness to find meaning etc. reveal human vulnerabilities easy to leverage in providing seemingly profound validation through readings even when quite generic.

Analyzing Other Readers

Finally, closely watching other renowned psychic readers, mediums and mentalists across videos allows breaking down their precise language, delivery mechanisms, props usage etc. to reverse engineer what makes their readings impact subjects so hard they breach emotional barriers. Their processes reveal the true psychology underpinning cold readings.

General Statements

 Some examples of general statements that can be used in cold reading:

  • I sense that you have been going through a period of change lately. Transitions can be challenging, but also bring new opportunities.
  • Relationships are so central to happiness. I see that connections are on your mind right now regarding loved ones.
  • You have a creative side that you don't always get to express in your daily life. Now is a good time to make space for that artistic outlet.
  • An important choice about a career or education path seems to be weighing on you currently. Trust your intuition when evaluating the way forward.
  • I'm picking up a wave of anticipation from you...seems there is either a purchase or travel plans in the works that have you feeling excited about the future.
  • You tend to be very self-reliant, but know that asking for help can be a strength too regarding the situation that's been most demanding lately.
  • A female family member, either a mother or grandmother figure, feels very integral to who you are now in some way because of a deep life lesson they imparted years ago that still guides you.
  • I sense you have recently been digging into spiritual or self-help reading quite a lot more intensely than usual. Feeling aligned mentally and emotionally is so key right now.
  • There's a choice you made regarding home, family or relationships a few years back that doesn't sit totally right with you still...now feels like the time for closure.
  • I see creative outlets being very healing lately when you're able to make time for them. Expressing through art, music, writing etc. feels essential to your emotional health.


Ultimately, while questionable ethically, cold reading forms the basis of mentalism feats that seem utterly unexplainable yet feel so personally relevant to spectators. Transforming scattered bits of nonverbal cues into seemingly psychic readings is essentially an applied performance art Above all, making it believable involves understanding human vulnerability while staying sharply observant of reactions during delivery. When finely honed, cold reading cuts right to the core of people in inexplicable yet intimate ways they'll never forget.

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