Inside Out reveals mind readers' techniques

Paul Daniels doing as card trick Magicians like Paul Daniels astound us, but we are under no illusion it is all just a trick

Going by the reaction we got in the middle of the street we had struck 'psychic' gold.

We asked psychological mind reader Kennedy to use his magician's skills and see if he could convince people he had a special insight into their lives.

Our street experiment was to demonstrate just how easily people can be manipulated into offering up information without realising it.

What seems like incredibly personal information, known only to them, is apparently being revealed by a stranger who they've only just met.

It's the kind of technique employed by entertainers to baffle their audiences. That's fine because everyone knows it's a trick.

On tonight's Inside Out we examine whether it's also being used by Stephen Holbrook.

He's an incredibly popular medium who sells out venues across the North.

But critics worry that his claims that he can hear the dead could be harmful to those desperate to make contact with relatives who've passed away.

Stephen categorically denies he uses 'cold reading' techniques insisting he does not advertise his evenings as "entertainment shows" because they are genuine.

Interestingly since we got in touch, his website was changed to say his shows are for "entertainment only".

You can be your own judge by watching tonight's programme - details are at the bottom of this page.

'Cold reading'

So what is 'cold reading'?

On the streets of Newcastle Kennedy showed just how it works combined with a bit of traditional magic.

Mentalist Kennedy demonstrates how easy it is to use the 'cold reading' technique

Our volunteers secretly wrote down a name of someone they hadn't seen for a long time.

Using his magician's repertoire Kennedy was able to get that name - so he already knew the sex of the individual, and chances are that would be someone who was dead.

The changing fashions for names can also hint at a possible age or generation, providing more clues to work with.

Next he throws out a question that seems specific to that person but has in fact got a good probability of being relevant to just about anyone.

"What's this about dogs?" That question is so open ended we probably could all respond to that.

The thing is that our volunteers are filling in the details. Either it's a pet, or maybe they had a phobia of them.

Either way it starts to sound convincing.

"Why are there too many flowers?" This sounds a bit more specific, but is it really?

Flowers are part of our every day lives - but something young men probably don't care for much.

His mum made the connection with the flowers she had planted in his memory and saw it as "scary" that Kennedy would know this. But he never said it.

Asking the right question in the right way is vital to cold reading.

Game of probabilities

Another example would be if a young man has died; our mind-reader could ask if cars were important to him.

Statistically more young men die in car crashes than most other causes.

Crystal ball gazing Mind readers often play a game of probability and use clever questions

If we hit the mark with this our subject would be amazed. How did we know the young person died in a car crash?

If we didn't, chances are that cars will have had some significance in his life - either because he loved them, wanted one, or was forever asking his parents for lifts.

At the end of it, all you remember is that the mind reader seemed to know every detail of the person you were talking about.

In fact you were doing all the hard work, and the man or woman with the gift was simply playing a game of probability and clever questioning.

You can watch Inside Out on BBC One at 19:30 GMT, Monday, 10 January, 2012

Chris Jackson Article written by Chris Jackson Chris Jackson Presenter, Inside Out, North East & Cumbria

Inside Out returns for a new series in 2015

Inside Out returns for a new series in 2015 but Chris Jackson's blog is coming to an end and he can now be found on social media.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Typical skeptic - assuming that we need to prove anything to you in the first place. Define how one measures "extraordinary evidence", please. I no longer believe in mediumship, but I do believe in freedom of worship. Disbelieve if you wish, but forget the idea that everything in the human experience is measurable by science. Humans created science. Some of us just choose not to worship it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I have no idea why Chris Jackson advised us to come here to find out about the techniques of the street magician. He really hasn't said anything particularly relevant in this blog.

    I assumed the "magician" was successful because the programme was merely showing the time where he was successful and omitting to show the unsuccessful attempts. Nothing that CJ has said has made me revise my opini

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    #8 Mike Hallowell:

    Funny how the religious always offer entirely subjective and immeasurable "extraordinary" evidence whenever they're asked to prove something they believe in. Stop making a special case and lowering the bar whenever it suits you. Science is totally capable of judging religion: you can put faith under a microscope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Funny how skeptics always ask for entirely subjective and immeasurable "extraordinary" evidence whenever they're dealing with something they don't believe in. What's extraordinary to you may be utterly mundane to another. Evidence is evidence. Stop making a special case and raising the bar whenever it suits you. Science is incapable of judging religion: you can't put faith under a microscope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Its an extraordinary claim to make that you can talk to the dead. A claim which should require extraordinary evidence. However, these frauds never put themselves up to be tested (if successful a Nobel Award would be a cert and it would destroy all known scientific theory) but they don't because they all fail on mutually agreed tests. Cash for grief ....nothing more


Comments 5 of 11


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