Are Psychic Readings Real? A Look at the Evidence

Updated September 1, 2021
Psychic doing palmistry

If you look to scientific testing of psychic readers, results are mixed. Some show abject failure of psychics to provide any genuine insight while others seem to show that some readers are, indeed, tapping into psychic information.

How Real Are Psychic Readings? Some Evidence Against

There are several instances that seem to prove that psychics aren't real, mostly in the form of studies or challenges. Some have been undertaken by universities, others by individuals or publications.

Double-Blind Studies

Double-blind studies from Goldsmiths, University of London, for example, showed two readers tested under highly controlled circumstances failed to yield any accurate apparently psychic answers that were statistically significant (that is, better than chance). This is, however, a small sample of the thousands of people in the world who claim to have psychic abilities.

Pass a Test, Become a Millionaire

Likewise, in 1996, professional skeptic James Randi issued a challenge offering $1 million for any psychic that could pass his stringently designed test. To date, no one has met the requirements of Randi's challenge to prove they have psychic abilities.

Scientific American Contest

Even before that, Scientific American magazine had a long-running challenge; they would pay money so any psychic that they could prove to be real. Many tried, but no one ever won the money. They even enlisted the help of well-known skeptic Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) and believer Harry Houdini.

How Real Are Psychic Readings? Some Evidence For

There are also a few instances in which psychics seemed to prove that their abilities were real. These were conducted by researchers and usually documented in books.

The Afterlife Experiments

Researcher Dr. Gary E. Schwartz from the University of Arizona has also conducted extensive testing of psychics, which he writes about in his book, The Afterlife Experiments. Schwartz has conducted many experiences with increasingly more controlled and stringent design and has found many readers did, indeed, show insight that was statistically significant (that is, greater than chance).

Controlled Experiments

Other researchers, including the Institute of Noetic Sciences and Society for Psychical Research, have also conducted stringently designed and carefully controlled social science research suggestive that psychic ability is, in fact, real.

Use Discernment

With evidence apparently both for and against the ability of readers to tap into psychic information, it becomes up to the individual to determine how real a psychic reading may be. However, there are some things you can do to help you decide for yourself whether a psychic reading you receive provides real information or is most likely a scam.

Beware of Cold Reading Techniques

Some people claiming to be psychics use a technique called cold reading, which is a way to make it appear the psychic is providing unknowable information when what they are really doing is relying on the client's own confirmation bias and special questioning techniques to come up with seemingly accurate information.

In cold reading, the purported psychic asks high-probability questions and then reads the client's body language and responses before moving forward. Typically, this starts with a general question or statement such as, "I'm perceiving a female who has crossed. Have you lost a female loved one?" Chances are the answer is yes. From here, the reader can rely on your verbal and non-verbal responses to these questions to narrow it down and arrive at what seems to be psychic information.

Try to Give as Few Verbal and Non-Verbal Cues as Possible

Minimizing your responses lessens a chance the reader will be able to use cold reading techniques on you. So when the reader says, "I'm sensing someone female..." don't reply or commit. Give a non-committal responses such as, "mmhmm" or say nothing at all, and if the reader asks directly if you've lost someone female, turn the question back to them asking, "What do you feel about that?" A true psychic will not need your responses to these questions for information.

You can minimize non-verbal cues by sitting back to back with the psychic so he can't see you, talking on the telephone or internet, or holding one body position and facial expression throughout the reading.

Ask the Right Questions

Another way to ensure a reader isn't relying on you for cues is to ask the right questions. Ask open-ended questions (as opposed to yes/no questions) and be as non-specific as possible. For example, don't ask, "Is my mother here?" Instead ask, "Who is here that wishes to contact me?" Judge the accuracy of the reader's responses to these questions, as well as noting how specific she is in providing accurate details of your life and situation.

Don't Provide Pre-Reading Information

When making your appointment, give the reader as little personal information as possible so they can't go on social media or online and research you. Try to make the appointment using only a first name and set up a Skype phone number or free email account not using your name for contact so they can't search social media by phone number. Likewise, avoid wearing or carrying anything with you to your appointment that might provide information about you, such as logo or slogan t-shirts. Doing this will ensure the reader isn't making educated guesses or telling you information he discovered about you with a few mouse clicks.

Psychic Readings: Real or Scam?

With the evidence pointing toward either conclusion, the best you can do is find a reputable reader if you decide to get a reading. Ask for recommendations, read online reviews, and do your research before contacting the reader. Seek as much information as you can and learn about the psychic's reputation beforehand. For best results, choose a reader with whom you feel confident.

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Are Psychic Readings Real? A Look at the Evidence