Derren Brown

Cold Reading



As a decent mind reader, Derren Brown is capable of telling very personal details about complete strangers. Although they have never met before, Derren knows practically everything about their characters, personal lives, interests, fears and even childhood memories. You can see some examples of his unusual abilities in this video.


So, how does he do it? Be sure that he is not really reading their minds or doing anything that would require a supernatural explanation. Derren is using a technique called cold reading. Cold reading is a technique used widely by mentalists, psychics, astrologist, fortune-tellers, tarot readers and horoscope writers who want to convince people that they posses some sort of paranormal abilities. It enables you to make complete strangers believe that you know a lot about them, even though you have never met them before. Using cold reading, you can tell them everything about their personality and reveal amazing details about their private life, without any prior knowledge. All you need to know are some simple tricks and techniques which can make anyone look like a mind reader.

So, how does cold reading work? We will cover all the basic techniques and also give you some practical examples which should be enough to explain what exactly cold reading is and how it can be done.


Shotgunning is a techinique in which the cold reader offers a large amount of very general statements and then waits for the response (especially body language) of the “subject”. If the subject’s response is positive, the reader continues and expands his statement. The subject will often voluntarily give out new information and later give credit for that to the reader. However, if the response is negative, the reader will try to mitigate the statement and will then quickly move on to another statement. The statements are all pretty vague and the subject is expected to give them the correct meaning. The reader will often pose them as questions and change them into firm statements later, after the positive response from the subject.

An example of shotgunning would be:

“I sense a woman in your family with some sort of cancer. Could be your aunt or something like that. Yes? I am pretty certain it is your aunt and she had cancer. She is no longer with us, is she? Oh, she is? I just sense her somehow distant. Oh, she has moved away recently? Then that must be it. I just feel a lot of distance between you and her …”

Barnum statements

Barnum statements are statements which are true for most people, but still sound very personal and seem to reveal a lot about a person. Each subject connects Barnum statements with his or her life and experiences, making them seem more revealing than they really are.

Here are a few examples of Barnum statements:

“You are sometimes insecure, especially with people you don't really know well.«

»You have a lot of old unsorted photographs at home.«

»When you were young, you had some sort of an accident involving water.«

»You're experiencing some tension with a friend or a relative at the moment.«

"Your father died because of problems in his chest or abdomen." (only for older people)

Most people can relate to this kind of statements and take them as a deep insight into their life and personality. What they don’t understand, however, is that most of this statements are true for most of the people. Even if the subject cannot relate to a certain Barnum statement, the cold reader will find an excuse or a way out. If the subject cannot, for instance, remember any childhood accident involving water, the reader can simply blame it on his forgetfulness.


The rainbow ruse

The rainbow ruse is a statement which simply can’t be wrong, but still sounds like a very convincing description of the subject’s personality. The reader simultaneously attributes two opposite personality traits to the subject, leaving him or her unable to deny the statement. Therefore, the rainbow ruse is one of the safest cold reading techniques (which does not mean it isn’t very effective).

Here are some examples of the rainbow ruse:

"Most of the time you are positive and cheerful, but there has been a time in the past when you were very upset."

"You are a very kind and considerate person, but when somebody does something to break your trust, you feel deep-seated anger."

"I would say that you are mostly shy and quiet, but when the mood strikes you, you can easily become the center of attention."

Since we all like to hear nice things about ourselves, the rainbow ruse should concentrate on the positive personality trait, while briefly mentioning its opposite. Most subjects will wholeheartedly agree with such statements, without realizing how meaningless they really are.

So, now you have the basic understanding of cold reading. It would take some more studying and a lot of practice to really master it, but this is how it mainly works. You are probably wondering how exactly did Derren use this techniques to achieve such results. Well, here is the text which he used in his experiment (see the video above for the experiment). It is full of Barnum statements, rainbow ruses and shotgunning.

Derren Brown's Forer experiment text:

You are a person prone to bouts of self-examination. This is in sharp contrast to a striking ability you have developed to appear very socially engaged, even the life and soul of the party; but in a way that only convinces others. You are all too aware of it being a façade.

This means that you will often be at a gathering and find yourself playing a part. While on the one hand you’ll be talkative and funny, you’ll be detaching yourself to the point where you will find yourself watching everything going on around you and feeling utterly unable to engage. You’ll play conversations back to yourself in your head and wonder what that person really meant when he said such-and-such — conversations that other people wouldn’t give a second thought to.

How have you learned to deal with this conflict? Through exercising control. You like to show a calm, self-assured fluid kind of stability (but because this is self-consciously created, it will create bouts of frustrated silliness and a delight in extremes, or at least a delight in being seen to be extreme). You most easily recognise this control in how you are with people around you. You have learned to protect yourself by keeping people at bay. Because in the past you have learned to be disappointed by people (and because there were issues with you adjusting to your sexuality), you instinctively keep people at arms’ length, until you decide they are allowed over that magic line into your group of close friends. However, once across that line, the problem is that an emotional dependency kicks in which leaves you feeling very hurt or rejected if it appears that they have betrayed that status.

Because you are prone to self-examination, you will be aware of these traits. However, you are unusually able to examine even that self-examination, which means that you have become concerned about what the real you is. You have become all too aware of façades, of sides of yourself which you present to the world, and you wonder if you have lost touch with the real and spontaneous you.

You are very creative, and have tried different avenues to utilize that ability. It may not be that you specifically, say, paint; it may be that your creativity shows itself in more subtle ways, but you will certainly find yourself having vivid and well-formed ideas which others will find hard to grasp. You set high standards for yourself, though, and in many ways are a bit of a perfectionist. The problem is, though, that it means you often don’t get stuff done, because you are frustrated by the idea of mediocrity and are wearied by the idea of starting something afresh. However, once your brain is engaged you’ll find yourself sailing. Very much this will likely lead to you having considered writing a novel or some such, but a fear that you won’t be able to achieve quite what you want stops you from getting on with it. But you have a real vision for things, which others fall short of. Particularly in your academic/college situation, you are currently fighting against restraints upon your desire to express yourself freely.

Your relationship with your parents (there is a suggestion that one is no longer around, or at least emotionally absent) is under some strain. You wish to remain fond of them but recent issues are causing frustration – from your side far more than theirs. In fact they seem unaware of your thoughts on the matter. Partly this is because there are ways in which you have been made to feel isolated from certain groups in the past – something of an outsider. Now what is happening is that you are taking that outsider role and defending it to the point of consciously avoiding being part of a group. This will serve you well in your creative and career pursuits. You have an enormous cynicism towards those who prefer to be part of a group or who exhibit any cliquey behaviour, and you always feel a pang of disappointment when you see your ‘close’ friends seeming to follow that route. Deep down it feels like rejection.

However, for all that introspection, you have developed a sensational, dry sense of humour that makes connections quickly and wittily and will leave you making jokes that go right over the heads of others. You delight in it so much that you’ll often rehearse jokes or amusing voices to yourself in order to ’spontaneously’ impress others with them. But this is a healthy desire to impress, and although you hate catching yourself at it, it’s nothing to be so worried about.

There’s also an odd feeling that you should have been born in a different century. You might be able to make more sense of that than I can.

There are some strong monetary shifts taking place at the moment. Both the recent past and what’s in store over the next few months represent quite a change.

You have links at the moment with America*, which are quite interesting, and will look to yield worthwhile results. You’re naturally a little disorganized. A look around your living space would show a box of photos, unorganised into albums, out-of-date medicines, broken items not thrown out, and notes to yourself which are significantly out of date. Something related to this is that you lack motivation. Because you’re resourceful and talented enough to be pretty successful when you put your mind to things, this encourages you to procrastinate and put them off. Equally, you’ve given up dreams a little easily when your mind flitted elsewhere. There are in your home signs of an excursion into playing a musical instrument, which you have since abandoned, or are finding yourself less interested in. (This may alternatively relate to poetry and creative writing you’ve briefly tried your hand at and left behind you.) You have a real capacity for deciding that such-and-such a thing (or so-and-so a person) will be the be all and end all of everything and be with you for ever. But you’d rather try and fail, and swing from one extreme to the other, than settle for the little that you see others content with.

Conclusion: It’s very interesting doing your reading, as you do present something of a conundrum, which won’t surprise you. You are certainly bright, but unusually open to life’s possibilities – something not normally found among achieving people. I’d say you’d do well to be less self-absorbed, as it tends to distance you a little, and to relinquish some of the control you exercise when you present that stylized version of yourself to others. You could let people in a little more, but I am aware that there is a darkness you feel you should hide (much of this is in the personal/relationship/sexual area, and is related to a neediness which you don’t like).

You really have an appealing personality – genuinely. Many thanks for doing this, and for offering something far more substantial than most.

Other tricks by Derren Brown

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