Cold, Hot Readings and Forer Effects: An Explanation

Spiritualism is based upon well-proven, worldwide facts, which can and have been scientifically classified, so it is quite correct that we should not pick and choose which scientific research we like and don’t like based upon whether the research supports or debunks our claims.

A true religion based upon science must also be sufficiently mature to be able withstand the rigours of critical analysis from those scientists within and outside of Spiritualism.

It is through the understanding of the research conducted by scientists who have yet to be convinced of our claims that we can learn about how society and many in the scientific community view Spiritualism. In particular it highlights aspects where Spiritualism needs to improve.

In this article we introduce three techniques that skeptics consistently use to debunk the Spiritualist claim that communication with those in the spirit world is a provable fact.

Cold Reading.

This is a technique where the person impersonating a medium is able to give supposedly correct and accurate information about the sitter that claimed to have been received by the Spirit World. But in actuality has been skilfully gathered by combination of general statements, probability guesses and visual clues and stereo-typing from the sitter such as age, gender, ethnicity and body language.

Often such impersonators using cold reading techniques will elicit information from the sitter by asking questions such as “Is it your mother I have here?” From which the response from the sitter could be yes or no. If yes then the sitter regards the statement as a hit, if no then the impersonator could turn the statement around by saying “but you would understand someone close to you that was like a mother to you?” Which again would probably lead the sitter in thinking the statement was a hit.

Another example that may be used by a cold reader is to notice the age of the sitter and especially if the sitter is elderly will through probability guess that they have a parent in the Spirit World.

Hot Reading.

Where as the cold reading technique relies on the impersonator eliciting information from the sitter during the demonstration process, hot readings use the foreknowledge of certain personal information about the sitter.

The impersonator gathers this information by researching the sitter prior to meeting, listening in on conversations prior to the demonstration or literally just going up and introducing themselves to the sitter and asking seemingly polite questions about what they’re hoping for, why are they here etc. All of which provides the impersonator with valuable information that they can use in conjunction with cold reading techniques to provide a convincing demonstration of spirit communication.

Barnum Statements and Forer Effect.

It is probably correct to assume that if a sitter has made the commitment to attend a demonstration or arrive for a private sitting, then they will have self-interest in ensuring that they have a positive experience. This may be achieved by the eagerness of the sitter to fill in the missing details so that the information given by the impersonator connects with particular aspects of their life. Referred to as the Forer Effect it is often used with Barnum statements, which are statement that seem specific but could apply to large proportion of those attending the demonstration or society as a whole.

Chris Connelly 2017