• Palm Reading: Science or Pseudoscience?

    This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the undergraduate and graduate students in my Science vs. Pseudoscience course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Pseudoscience.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular pseudoscience topic, as well as run a booth on-campus to help reach people physically about the topic.


    Palm Reading: Science or Pseudoscience? by Nikki Beasler

    That sounds like a simple question to most of us, but you would be surprised at how many people in this world actually believe in these types of fortune telling endeavors. As most of you know, a pseudoscience is a body of knowledge held out to be scientific but it does not comply with the scientific method. Some people do not see the harm in these simple forms of pseudoscience and believe them to be purely entertainment. I myself had my palm read while on vacation this summer in New Orleans. I did it with a friend for the entertainment value, not because we truly believed the palm reader held the key to our future (and it may have had a little to do with the hand grenade I drank beforehand). We were surprised at how similar our readings were. The problem is that many people do not see the distinction between fantasy and reality and millions of dollars are spent every year on this type of “entertainment”.

    Palmistry is a form of divination that uses the lines in a person’s palms to get details about the individual’s life and personality. Palmistry is also known as chiromancy which comes from the Greek word “cheir” meaning hand. Many people believe that anything that can be traced back as many years as palmistry must be valid. It has after all, withstood the “test of time” as if that were proof in and of itself. The Chiromancy Palmistry blog website describes it this way:

    Chiromancy palmistry roots of palm reading can be historically traced back to ancient Greece and Aristotle. Palm reading was widely used throughout the empires and nations of that region, and the east. It was used in Egypt, Babylon, India, Tibet, China, Sumer, Persia and more. It is commonly believed that palm reading actually originated in India, and has its roots in astrology, I Ching, and fortune tellers. A Hindu sage, Valmiki, is thought to have written about palm reading several thousand years ago. From India, it is really believed to have spread throughout the area east and west by word of mouth and practicing palm readers where it eventually reached Aristotle and many others.

    With that much history, there must be some scientific evidence that it is actually based on valid principles that can be proven, right? The simple answer is no, not at all. The reason palmistry falls into the pseudoscience category is because it is cloaked in scientific jargon and actually referred to as a science in many books and on many websites.  People holding themselves out as “doctors” practice the art of palm reading. Dr. Sarah Larsen is a world renowned palm reader according to her website, but what exactly is she a doctor of? Below is a small excerpt from her website:

    Dr. Sarah Larsen is a 3rd Generation Palm Reader, Psychic Counselor, and Medical Intuitive. She is the founder of Organic Health Mastery. Her education as a healer began with her grandmother in rural Pakistan. She received a degree as Medical Doctor from Medical University of the Americas. Her approach to hand analysis, intuition and healing is described as merging ancient wisdom, science, and spirituality for optimal living and completion of your soul’s journey!

    SARAH LARSEN, M.D., Co-HOST of CRN Network’s Divine Love Talk with Dr. Parthenia Grant

    This is when these types of pseudoscience began to enter the “danger zone”. People read this and amy believe that she is a practicing or licensed physician, which may or may not be true. This lends extra credence to her other claims (“She’s a doctor, she relies on science!”) and people begin to believe that maybe this really works and they sign up to pay money for her services, which are not cheap. Her website says you can buy the “Awareness Package” for $2,497 which is a 10 week program (with a $5,432 value).

    This is a video of Dr. Larsen in action at one of her “Personal Development for Extraordinary People Workshops”. You can tell the way she speaks to the woman she is trying to reel her in for a bigger sale.

    You may be asking yourself “how do people get duped into shelling out money for this type of service?” The answer lies in our human make-up. It is human nature to want to know what is going to happen in the future so we can prepare ourselves for it. The problem is that many people turn what they learn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. They do things that ultimately cause the things that have been predicted to actually come true.

    Many books and websites will actually refer to the “science” of palmistry. They offer no scientific proof that palmistry works and yet they try to make it sound like a science. The book The Mystery Of Palmistry (A Guide To The Art And Science Of Palm Reading) actually calls palmistry a science in the title, even though at the same time referring to it as an art. The cover is so appealing to the eye, it will actually draw the reader in because it looks so alluring. Shown is the cover along with the preface from the book. You can see where this could draw people in to the trap of believing in this nonsense and paying money for it.

     Back of The Book

    An ancient art with many systems of interpretation, Palmistry is a subject that has enthralled mankind for ages. In this comprehensive and easy to read volume P Khurrana, bestselling author and renowned exponent of astrology, tarot, vaastu — provides to the reader a guide to the art and science of palm reading.

    Explore the mysteries of palmistry in this book. Understand the connections between your past, your present and your future. Learn not only how to interpret the lines on your own hands — and those of people around you — but also the ethics and methods of the practice of palmistry.

    A must-read for all those who seek a greater understanding of life and the world through this fascinating art.


    Palmistry; the art and science of self-discovery, has been a part of our lives for ages. As we change and evolve with age, so do the lines on our hands.

    Man has been studying the importance of these lines since the very existence of mankind. Even in ancient times, thumbprints were used for various purposes. Julius Caesar judged his men with the help of palmistry; By studying both hands—the non- dominant hand (past) and the dominant hand (present)—we can recognize the traceable link between our past behavioral patterns and our present personality, thoughts and experiences. With this understanding, we can shape our future in a constructive, fulfilling way, making positive choices regarding our work, our dealings with people around us and many other important aspects of life.

    The practice of chiromancy is found all over the world, with numerous cultural variations. Those who practice it are generally called palmists, palm readers, hand readers, hand analysts or chirologists.

    Chiromancy is generally regarded as a pseudoscience. The information outlined below is briefly representative of modern palmistry; there are many—often conflicting—interpretations of various lines and palm features across various ‘schools’ of palmistry.

    Palmistry is also the term in older literature for sleight of hand.

    The easiest way to verify it for oneself is by going to a palmist who knows nothing about you. If he is able to mention a few things that happened in the past and relate them to the present, then you will be far more receptive to what he says about the future. In the past, many distinguished philosophers wrote about and approved of this science, which led us to believe in its authenticity. But, at the same time, palmistry is an ancient art, and one that has many systems of interpretation. It is also an intuitive art that can be learned easily, by understanding a few basic things about the symbolism that is represented by the lines that run across the palm, the mounts (or fleshy parts) of the palm and the structure of fingers. In palmistry the hand as a whole is divided into three different sections. The fingers represent the mind and the higher self. The middle of the palm represents day-to-day life and the conscious mind. The lower half of the palm represents primal instincts, health and basic drives of the subconscious. Palmistry is all about proportion, symmetry and distortions of what would be considered a perfectly formed hand.

    Palmistry begins with the obvious and proceeds, by innumerable intricate steps of judgment and interpretation, to extreme details of the palm. Conclusions drawn from a palm reading can provide you with answers to questions you have regarding your life.

    The author refers to palmistry as an art, a science and a pseudoscience just in the preface alone! No wonder it is so confusing to a lot of people. One very official looking video I came across was Hand Analysis – Palmistry – Is it Real or Fake? It gives the impression that it may actually provide some kind of evidence as to the authenticity of palmistry, but in the end it is just a way to draw people in to the online palm reading website of Kat Anders where you can get your palm read right over the internet for only $50. The link to Ms. Anders’ website says she has a master’s in health education, which again leads credibility to palmistry since she is a practicing palm reader. People think that she must be for real because an educated person like that would not be in the business of ripping people off. Well the only advice I have for them is THINK AGAIN.

    My favorite video has to be the one below where Derren Brown takes us on a journey to show just how gullible people are to these types of hoaxes. Mr. Brown is a British illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, writer, and skeptic. He has become well known for his mind-reading act and though his performances may appear to be the result of some psychic abilities, he does not claim to have such abilities and frequently, as in this video, sets out to expose those who do make such claims as the hoaxes that they are.

    In his video, Derren Brown – Palm Readers are Fake!, he shows just how easy it is to make people think that you are making a personality reading just for them when really it could apply to anyone. People hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe when it comes to all forms of divination, including palm reading. It is important that we, as educated people, try to bring out the skeptic in everyone we know so they are not easily fooled. As the old saying goes, “A fool and his money are soon parted”, so do your best to keep your friends and their money together when it comes to the likes of palmistry.

    I think the title of the book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Palmistry says it all. I guess they aren’t saying only idiots need a guide to palmistry, but it could be taken that way. In reality the fact that there even is a book on Palmistry in the Complete Idiot’s Guide series shows just how popular this particular pseudoscience has become.


    Category: HealthOutreachPseudoscienceTeaching


    Article by: Caleb Lack

    Caleb Lack is the author of "Great Plains Skeptic" on SIN, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher. His website contains many more exciting details, visit it at www.caleblack.com

    4 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

    • Well done!

    • Evelyn Stratmoen

      I bought a book many moons ago about reading faces (http://mienshiang.com/the-face-reader). I bought it because it looked interesting, but quickly realized I spent money on a ludicrous topic. The idea that having a stressful event can make my eyebrows or widow’s peak change was insane to me. I started using it as a filter for dating — If I mentioned it was my favorite book and he said “me too!”, he was a quickly kicked to the curb. Needless to say, if anyone I am interested in dating mentions they subscribe to astrology or anything else in that vein, my intereset immediatley dissipates.

    • narges30

      I believe even fortune tellers know that they are wrong. if they really know about our future by reading our palms, I bet they would already red their palms and now they were in better situation in their life. they do this because they do not want go to school for real learning and spent their times on holidays like us to sit and do home-works, so, it is much easier to read palms and tell anything they want without any guaranties for some money.

    • Ryan Danger McCall

      There is nothing wrong with fortune telling (by palm reading or cookie) as a form of entertainment. However people seem to blur the line between entertainment and pure nonsense. I like to think that the majority of people know that palm reading is fake but I feel like I may be too optimistic. The amount of money that is thrown into these readings is just ridiculous when there is so much information about it being a fraud. I learned that palm reading was fake at a young age after watching Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

    • timharvey87

      Palm reading is a great example of how people are meaning-seeking machines. There are lines on my hand, they must mean something! What I always loved about palm reading is that it could do everything. It can show you the past, present, and future. Palm reading suggests that everyone’s entire life was predetermined and yet having your palm read does not change your destiny. Like if my palm said I was going to die soon so I decided to work out and eat healthier so I wouldn’t die, that should change my destiny and then also change the lines on my hand but it doesn’t.

    • Alexa Riffe

      I am quite surprised at the history behind palm readings. I myself have never had a palm reading done before or know anyone who has, so I have never really looked into palm readings before. However the extensive history and seemingly complex system of reading does actually make plam readings seem valid. However I do agree with you in that most entertain the idea of palm radings, which then becomes misleading to others.

    • pdavis13

      People who spend money on this crap are idiots. Huge money grubbing scheme that fools tourists all the time. I was surprised at some of the history behind it, but I’m just beguiled at how so many people can actually believe this b.s.

    • Adam Braly

      It’s crazy to think that people place a great deal of importance in techniques like palmistry. I agree with Tim that people are often looking for answers to the struggles of life, but to assume that these people possess supernatural abilities to predict your future is bollocks. No where on Kat Anders website does she provide sufficient evidence that palmistry is “grounded in science” as the front banner claims. The articles section includes a single piece of literature that suggests a causal link between intrauterine exposure of hormones that influence the development of other adult-onset diseases. Am I missing something here, or is this really the only substantive proof for palmistry as a science?
      I’m too skeptical to have my own palm read, but I’ve witnessed the feat in action and let me tell you, these people are struggling to make shit up.

    • tinafriar

      I am amazed at how many people fall for these types of things. I have often wondered why, but I guess the conclusion I’ve come to is that life is hard, and sometimes people just want people to tell them what they want to hear whether they realize it or not. These folks prey on that fact to make a quick buck. It’s sad, really.

    • Em

      Mmm, I just don’t think of these people as villains. They are providing a comforting service to people. Not everyone cares about science. I know that I do, and I’d rather not see a friend waste money on such things but people go to psychics the same way they go to therapists, and frankly psychics cost about the same and you don’t walk out of their office on every kind of anti-depressant. Sometimes people need a nudge in life. I don’t believe in horoscopes…but occasionally I’ll look one up to make life a little more interesting or to get myself motivated in a certain direction, or if I don’t like it to reaffirm that it’s fake. I find it extremely entertaining.

      Take what you love and leave the rest!

      • Villains may be a bit strong. Scam artists, though, is highly accurate.

        As far as comparing “psychics” to seeing someone for therapy, I think you are way off. For instance, only psychiatrists (or other physicians) are able to prescribe to prescribe meds, and they do not usually do therapy. Good therapists use evidence-based methods (supported by decades of research) to help people work on specific problems in a time-limited fashion, they don’t provide false hope and bullshit guesses and intuition.

        • Em

          Eh, but the fact remains that you should never take away somebodies’ “hope”.

          I totally get your angle, but I feel like the thing that makes the practice so alluring to people is that they believe and have hope it may be true. And I don’t think every Psychic and whatnot thinks and knows they are scamming people. I know people who believe they have abilities and call out people’s horoscopes and whatnot, with 90% accuracy or so. Perhaps from a psychological perspective they are just unknowingly picking up on things about a person (IE, subconsciously picking up on body language without consciously saying to oneself “This guy is standing with his arms crossed, therefore, I think he’s a guarded person” Rather, they are just picking up on it and thinking “Something is off, I think this person is guarded” If you know what I mean.

          As far as psychology goes….it’s very exploitative and thus far it’s all full of semantics and rhetoric. I mean they just added “Caffeine withdrawl” to the DSM-V as a condition. There are serious conditions and such but it’s totally screwing over lives right now if you ask me. I know so many people who were completely normal before being all prescribed anti-depressants. It’s a total epidemic. Pharmaceuticals is up there with crude oil on Americas’ most profitable resources. Until they come up with a way to physically prove people have these conditions, I think they are no better than psychics. (There are advancements in that don’t get me wrong) But statistics in anything are unreliable means of solid physical proof (for anything). MRI images, blood tests, those are reliable. Like how psychopaths can be tested by MRI. Yet still, it’s not affordable. So you have to rely on a therapist to make a diagnosis without extensive physical testing. For a doctor to say you have a tumor, he runs a test on you, then he can treat you. For a therapist, you get an “opinion” and are put on a drug like Zoloft which is a catch-all for any and all issues. Then we have Latuda, Seroquel, and all of that for different psychological issues. Therapists will various attempts at meds, adjust medications, and in the long run there may have never been a serious problem, but now there sure is a problem, the patient has been messed up by every kind of everything, his brain chemistry has been tempered with.

          Two other issues

          1. They are creating disorders in people with experimental practices and creating placebo effects, much akin to perhaps a placebo feeling one might get from a psychic
          2. They are exploiting the first person to walk in with a bad day and over-prescribing

          So that’s why I find it totally acceptable to compare the two. Very similar. It’s like how before we had chemistry, we had alchemy. Psychology/psychiatry is like alchemy.

          Much respect

          • I think false hope is no better than no hope, but I know not all do. I’d rather face the world as it is, rather than be deluded and taken advantage of.

            As for your rant about psychology, it seems you’ve had some pretty negative experiences and have a very skewed understanding of what psychology as a whole actually is and does. Even conflating psychology and psychiatry shows a lack of understanding of the two and the differences therein.

        • Em

          Ultimately, what I’m getting at is that some people need false hope. Not everyone is properly educated and if they don’t want to be, they are not going ever be. The least we can do is keep them happy and give them positive hopes. Motivators, inspirational people, they are as important as scientists to our society. A person who can just make you smile and feel comfort is important.

          And, to each his own. So long as they aren’t plotting zealous religious wars and harming people. A petty horoscope is the least of our problems. Heck, even some religious people aren’t so bad to be around if you ask me. It’s only the nasty crotchety ones.

    • swati


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    • You should put up your palm, to get your skepticism verified/unverified ?:-)

      it fit me 100% so far, just like astrology

      astrology will never get popular, nobody wants to hear their bad sides
      that is the base of psyche analysis too… nobody wants to hear it

      people want only their good sides

      the problems with doubters is they doubt everything in the world that isnt proven
      they might close out something that actually works, like acupuncture which can be helpful
      like crystal healing which can too
      like astrology that can tell our good and bad sites of our personality (google your starsign on google images + personality , you’d be surprised, take yourself 10-30mins to read the images)

      palm reading is as accurate as this and more, it even even tell the future, it predicted when I was severe ill and in hospital 10 times due to kidney problems, exact time, 25 years
      it also predicted my starsign – so I know I am a jupiter planet type , that personality fits me 100%
      my starsign also has jupiter as ruling planet

      so the palmist was right

      • Piyush Taneja

        Palmistry is only fake a palmist came and seen my palm and told you had a heart problem when u took birth but when i confirmed with that hospital and my parents even i seen my reports there is nothing like i had any heart desease however i have healthy heart , please suggest anybody what was that and why he told me about heart ?

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    • Abcpark

      while your article is interesting,
      you provide absolutely no evidence to discredit the validity of palm reading. I actually came here looking for evidence that palm reading is not true (since mycpalm indicates bad news for me), and was disappointed. All you did was talk about palm readers make money off of their trade. In all the searching I have done, I have found zero evidence palm reading isn’t valid. It would be easy to study the palms of elderly people – any with short life lines that would have suggested an early demise?

      Also you are wrong about people believing in palm reading and astrology in order to hang onto some hopeful notion predicted by their palm. My situation is the exact opposite where I am looking for evidence that astrology , palm reading (even predictions based on earlobe creases) aren’t real and yet keep finding substantial evidence of truth in them.

      • Thanks for commenting!

        Palmistry, like many other pseudosciences, plays heavily upon two things. First is the confirmation bias (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias). Second is using cold reading techniques (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_reading). When these are used together they can certainly give the impression that someone is giving prognostications that are useful or specific. I’d really recommend checking out the book “Why People Believe Weird Things” or my last book “Critical Thinking, Science, & Pseudoscience: Why You Can’t Trust Your Brain” for a full discussion on the topic.