Cold reading is a series of techniques used by mentalists, illusionists, fortune tellers, psychics, and mediums to determine or express details about another person, often in order to convince them that the reader knows much more about a subject than they actually do. Without prior knowledge of a person, a practiced cold reader can still quickly obtain a great deal of information about the subject by analyzing the person's body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc. Cold readers commonly employ high probability guesses about the subject, quickly picking up on signals from their subjects as to whether their guesses are in the right direction or not, and then emphasizing and reinforcing any chance connections the subjects acknowledge while quickly moving on from missed guesses.
The actual term "Cold reading", in this context, seems to have been coined in the 1940s. It was used by Robert Nelson in his writings by the late 1940's and William Lindsay Gresham uses the term in the book "Nightmare Alley" in 1946.
The term is also used by actors to describe acting from a script during it's very first reading.
- The Art of Cold Reading (1951) by Robert Nelson
- A Sequel to the Art of Cold Reading (1971) by Robert Nelson
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