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Cold reading is a set of techniques used by mentalists, psychics, fortune-tellers, mediums, illusionists (readers), and scam artists to imply that the reader knows much more about the person than the reader actually does.
Without prior knowledge, a practiced cold-reader can quickly obtain a great deal of information by analyzing the person's body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc.
Cold readings commonly employ high-probability guesses, quickly picking up on signals as to whether their guesses are in the right direction or not, then emphasizing and reinforcing chance connections and quickly moving on from missed guesses.
Psychologists believe that this appears to work because of the Forer effect and due to confirmation biases within people.
Before starting the actual reading, the reader will typically try to elicit cooperation from the subject, saying something such as, "I often see images that are a bit unclear and which may sometimes mean more to you than to me; if you help, we can together uncover new things about you." One of the most crucial elements of a convincing cold reading is a subject eager to make connections or reinterpret vague statements in any way that will help the reader appear to make specific predictions or intuitions.
While the reader will do most of the talking, it is the subject who provides the meaning.
After determining that the subject is cooperative, the reader will make a number of probing statements or questions, typically using variations of the methods noted below.
The subject will then reveal further information with their replies (whether verbal or non-verbal) and the cold reader can continue from there, pursuing promising lines of inquiry and quickly abandoning or avoiding unproductive ones.
In general, while revelations seem to come from the reader, most of the facts and statements come from the subject, which are then refined and restated by the reader so as to reinforce the idea that the reader got something correct.
Subtle cues such as changes in facial expression or body language can indicate whether a particular line of questioning is effective or not.
Combining the techniques of cold reading with information obtained covertly (also called "hot reading") can leave a strong impression that the reader knows or has access to a great deal of information about the subject.