Apparently there’s a new person on the scene who claims they can speak to the dead, and Hollywood wants you to welcome him into your living room with open arms. Tyler Henry is a supposed medium (or, as some call them, ‘grief vampires’), who will happily try to convince you that he is speaking to your dead relatives. The “Hollywood Medium” (as he’s being called) recently did an interview with Dr. Phil (not someone who’s known for being a good scientific skeptic) and apparently has a television show on E!.
From the religious-movement inspiring Fox sisters and Madam Helena Blavatsky in the 19th century to the television-viewing inspiring John Edward (of Crossing Over) and Teresa Caputo (of Long Island Medium) in the 21st century, so-called mediums have often acquired huge, devoted audiences by supposedly being able to speak to the dead. This generally then translates into financial success, as they often charge people for “readings” or at the very least graciously accept donations. For example, at the time of this writing Edward charges $850 for a private reading, either at his office or over the phone, or $175 to attend a group reading with hundreds of other people (with no guarantee of getting a reading). Caputo has had two best selling books, sells a line of “spiritually inspired” jewelry, and a television show that’s been airing for seven seasons and averages over 1.5 million viewers per episode.
Luckily, people from Lucian of Samosota to Harry Houdini to James Randi do their damnedest to make people aware of what’s actually going on. Although today’s mediums do not tend to rely on darkened rooms to hide their actions, they do rely on a set of well-documented, well-understood techniques for “reading” people. Typically called cold reading and hot reading, these exploit many of the natural biases of the human mind,require no supernatural powers, and can be learned by anyone. To use Rowlands’ (2002) definition,
Cold reading is a deceptive psychological strategy. Among other things, it can be used by someone who is not psychic to give what seems to be a very convincing psychic reading. Cold reading is neither one single technique, nor one single procedure. It is better to think of ‘cold reading’ as the collective term for a set of techniques which can be used in different contexts to achieve different goals. (p. 16)
Tyler Henry is undoubtedly employing cold-reading techniques, whether knowingly or by accident. Either way, he does not actually speak to the dead. As for if he’s using hot reading techniques (when the medium has gained information beforehand and then uses it during their reading later, acting as if they obtained it from a dead person), who’s to say? He certainly wouldn’t be the first television medium to be caught doing so.
Regardless, if you do happen to have to watch his show, I’d highly recommend printing out some Cold Reading Bingo cards. Maybe even turn it into a drinking game!