Derren Brown on cold reading

In this series of videos, illusionist Derren Brown explains cold reading and the techniques behind it to Richard Dawkins. The videos provide a useful insight into cold reading techniques and how they can be employed in fake psychic and medium performances. The combination of Derren’s inside knowledge of the techniques, and Richard’s famous sceptisism of, well just about everything, leaves the viewer in little doubt that many mediums and psychics are indeed fake.

They discuss our willingness to believe (an essential requisite of cold reading), and how the odds are stacked in favour of the medium. Psychics and mediums are subject to less scrutiny than illusionists and mentalists because they never promise anything and the audience understands that the spirits don’t always cooperate. Magicians however, have to produce something pretty stunning in order not to be discredited.

Video credits: Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science

Part 1 – Introduction to cold reading

Derren defines what cold reading is, and explains about Barnum statements and the Forer experiment which demonstrated their effectiveness. He also introduces some of the linguistic tricks that can be used to minimise the effects of wrong guesses.



Part 2

Psychic performers can believe they are getting a genuine result, even when they aren’t. The ethics of psychic performance. How to spot a fake medium. How audiences can be prepared in advance.

Part 3

How mediums use the sitter to provide the information. Why psychics can’t fail.
The growth of gullibility and it’s exploitation by performers and the media.


Part 4

Part 5

The banality of typical mediums’ conversations with dead people. Lack of logic in Tarot readings. Can mediums and psychics do harm? How Doris Stokes used hot reading (known facts) and a prepared audience member to appear to do an amazing feat in front of an audience.

Part 6

On scepticism, hypnotism, religion, and magic.


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