James Randi has an article in Wired magazine exposing yet another fake psychic — Theresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium, who now has her own show on badly misnamed The Learning Channel (where the only thing you can learn about are fake psychics, incredibly obese people and women who have turned their uterus into a clown car).
Caputo does what’s known in my trade as “cold reading.” The very best practitioners can pick up enough information in what seems like innocent, idle conversation to convince you that they know very specific things about you. The scientific phenomenon is called the Forer effect — giving credence to vague observations that seem personal.
It’s also called the Barnum effect, after that famous showman credited with coining the phrase: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
That technique consists of simply tossing out initials, names and situations to the subject, asking casual questions while guessing, and a handful of other manipulative psychological techniques to appear to be demonstrating psychic powers.
“Is there an anniversary coming up?” “A birthday or something?” “He/she just said to me …” “He’s proud of you” and the ever-popular “Do you understand?” — to which the answer is always a nod of assent. What else is a beguiled believer to do when told: “She’s happy in Heaven?”
All of those inquiries come from Caputo, I should add.
Caputo has been given JREF’s 2012 Pigasus award.