While there are mediums who use deceptive practices to take advantage of clients, the same can be said for most professions. Unfortunately, there will always be people who cut corners to make a buck.
There are several ways a fraudulent medium can fabricate what seems like an accurate reading. The main two are called hot reading and cold reading. With hot reading, the fraud will obtain information about the sitter (the living person receiving the reading) beforehand and feed it back to them during the reading and act like it's coming from the deceased. The information can be looked up online through social media or using confederates onsite to chat up the sitter.
With cold reading, the fraud asks the sitter questions and uses their responses or uses sensory clues or cues (for example, the name, age, or gender of the sitter, their clothing or accent, tears, gasps, nods, pupil dilation, the sitter smelling of cigarette smoke, etc.) to steer the direction of the reading. A reading containing information so general it could apply to nearly anyone is also a form of cold reading.
Unfortunately, the media often seems to go out of its way to report on and even seek out fraudulent mediums. While these criminals should definitely be prosecuted, they are not the whole story. The media seldom, if ever, reports on the positive experiences people have with mediums. For example:
What Happened When I, a Sciencey Skeptic, Got a Medium Reading to Help Manage Grief
Sadly, these types of positive stories and any serious, unbiased reporting about the current state and scope of mediumship research are often overlooked by journalists. As a result, this focus on fraudulent “mediums” feeds confirmation bias for skeptics and perpetuates the unsubstantiated myth that all mediums are nothing more than money-hungry frauds.
However, the actual laboratory evidence is that roughly 30% of mediums surveyed in the US reported that they offer readings for free (Video: Survey of Secular American Mediums). In addition, EEG findings from six pre-screened mediums suggest that the specific mental state occurring during communication with the deceased may differ from normal thinking or imagination (Delorme et al., 2013).
Bringing mediumship into the lab
In order to test mediumship in our lab, we have to address these and other alternative explanations for mediums' apparent accuracy. Our research readings involve only phone readings and the sitter is not on the call. An experimenter blinded/masked to information about the sitter and their associated deceased loved one (called the discarnate in research) serves as a proxy sitter in place of the absent sitter. Because the medium has no access to the sitter and the blinded experimenter cannot provide cues or clues, this protocol addresses the hot and cold reading explanations.
In addition, the experimenter asks the medium specific questions about the discarnate's physical and personality characteristics, hobbies, and cause of death and any messages for the absent sitter. By asking for specific information, this addresses the overly general information explanation.
Our quintuple-blind protocol also addresses further explanations for accurate readings. Each medium performs two readings for two different discarnates and each associated sitter scores formatted transcripts of both readings without knowing which was intended for them (the target reading) and which was intended for another sitter (the decoy reading). Some people have a tendency to give the medium the benefit of the doubt and score a lot of items as accurate; others are very strict in their scoring. The protocol addresses this 'rater bias' by comparing the accuracy percentages of all the target readings with those percentages of all the decoy readings.
Finally, another possible explanation for a medium's accuracy is precognition: that is, the medium obtains which items in the reading were scored as accurate from the future when they are given feedback about the reading. To address this explanation, we never give the research mediums feedback about their research readings.
To find mediums who were able to consistently perform readings under these quintuple-blind conditions, we tested, screened, trained, and certified a team of Windbridge Certified Research Mediums (WCRMs).
Ours is a remarkably complex protocol. For the peer-reviewed journal article discussing the full protocol and our results with 20 mediums, see Beischel et al., 2015. For a summary of that article, see the Fact Sheet: Testing Mediums’ Accuracy Under Controlled Laboratory Conditions.
Our quintuple-blind accuracy testing demonstrates the phenomenon of Anomalous Information Reception (AIR), that is, the reporting of accurate and specific information about deceased people or animals to the living sitters without prior knowledge about the deceased or sitters, in the absence of sensory feedback, and without using deceptive means (Beischel et al., 2015).
Stated plainly: Some research mediums have reported accurate and specific information about the deceased without having to use any shenanigans or monkey business.
While we can't test every medium everywhere, these data demonstrate that not every medium, every time needs to resort to fraud to be accurate.
Mediumship doesn’t work like that
A lot of claims and opinions based on incorrect assumptions about mediums are regularly included in the popular culture. Get the facts based in science here.
The purpose of mediumship is sharing messages from the deceased with their living loved ones.
A medium’s job is not to prove anything to you. It is to share experiences and interpretations related to your deceased loved one.
The mediums we have studied report that deceased people find them and not vice versa. They receive rather than retrieve information. They cannot force the deceased to communicate. Who comes through and what they convey is not up to the medium any more than who is on the other end of a ringing phone and what they say is up to you.
Research suggests that only deceased people who have a bond with you, a desire to connect with you, and the skills to communicate with a medium will participate. The medium can’t ring up just any dead person.
Mediums we have studied experience communication from the deceased not as a phone call but as a multi-sensory experience of images, sounds, sensations, scents, and tastes allowing them to share information about and messages from the deceased. These experiences often come as flashes and are quickly replaced by other mental imagery. In addition, the information may occur as symbols that require interpretation.
People’s individual differences are limited so mediumship readings cannot be entirely unique. During readings performed over the phone under blinded conditions in which the mediums were asked about the deceased’s physical and personality characteristics, hobbies, and cause of death, about 30% of the information also applied to another unrelated person (Beischel et al., 2015). This is a function of similarities between people not of the medium’s ability. The medium cannot control if your loved one had a common hair color, a popular hobby, or a leading cause of death. Unless your deceased loved one lived on another planet, had a name not made up of letters, and died of an unknown disease, there will be overlap with other humans.
The intricacies of being dead are a mystery. Assumptions about the capabilities, desires, motivations, or interests of the deceased (or even your own capabilities, desires, motivations, or interests when you are dead) do not necessarily reflect that reality.
Who regulates mediums’ practices?
In general, in the United States, no one. Anyone can call themselves a medium and charge sitters money for readings or offer readings for free or for traded goods or services. There are no official testing, certification, or registration bodies responsible for regulating the practice of mediumship.
Though some cities and states require a license to perform psychic readings of any kind, people are for the most part free to perform readings however they want and charge whatever they want. Like with hiring any contractor, it is the responsibility of the consumer to check references, understand refund policies, and the like.
We are currently developing educational materials for consumers of afterlife-related services to train individuals on how to protect themselves from fraud. Once finalized this will be available free from our website so that consumers can access it and practicing mediums can be aware of what we are teaching people. Join our email list to be notified when this document is available.
Fact Sheet (PDF):
Testing Mediums’ Accuracy Under Controlled Laboratory Conditions
Fact Sheet (PDF):
“Well, actually…” Responses to Common Misconceptions about Mediums
Fact Sheet (PDF):
Receiving a Mediumship Reading: Recommendations for Sitters (a.k.a., Be a Better Sitter)
Fact Sheet (PDF):
Support for the Survival of Consciousness Explanation
Current projects: Sitters’ bill of rights
What does the scientific community know about mediums?
Beischel, J., Boccuzzi, M., Biuso, M., & Rock, A. J. (2015). Anomalous information reception by research mediums under blinded conditions II: Replication and extension. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science & Healing, 11(2), 136-142. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2015.01.001
[Link opens abstract in a new window]
Delorme, A., Beischel. J., Michel, L., Boccuzzi, M., Radin, D., & Mills, P. J. (2013). Electrocortical activity associated with subjective communication with the deceased. Frontiers in Psychology, 4: 834. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00834
Video: Survey of Secular American Mediums. Jump to 31:20.