How do magicians read minds? Famous mental tricks explained

Many magicians make it look like they actually read minds and predict the answers or choices of their audience. In this post, I’ll show you exactly how they do it and reveal several popular mind-reading magic tricks.

In short, here’s how mind reading works:

For most mind-reading tricks, magicians use techniques to control the attention and choices of the audience. There are some real mentalism methods, but they are rarely used on stage or combined with magic tricks.

I’ll explain the general concept of mind-reading and show you several different magic tricks that can be used to create the illusion of mind reading.

Let’s dive in.

Can magicians actually read minds, and how do they do it?

First of all: whenever you see a “mind-reading” trick on stage or performed by a magician in general, they are almost always just using tricks. No performer would try to actually read the mind or thoughts of a random person.

With the right methods, many magicians make it look like they are actually able to do real mental tricks, but the truth is that they are just great performers.

I’ve explained many different magic tricks on this website, including quite a few “mind-reading” effects as well. I’ll link to the posts down below if you are interested in learning how they work.

But, to make a long story short, the majority of performers don’t actually read minds, they just do magic tricks and add some “mental” effects to them. You’ll see what I’m talking about when we get to some actual tricks and how they work.

TOP 5 MIND READING Magic Trick Tutorials! (I'm going to read your mind!)

However, there are some strategies and techniques that don’t use any sleight of hand or other principles of magic. They are specifically designed to achieve the effect of “mentalism” or the “ability to read minds”.

I’ve covered these methods in the next section, if you are interested in some magic tricks and stage performances, you’ll find them further down below.

Let’s take a look at some basic mentalism techniques.

The basic principles about mentalism, cold and hot reading

There are many techniques and tricks that mentalists use to impress their audience. I’ll explain two well-known methods down below.

While there are many more, these examples will give you a great idea of the principles behind these methods.

The Cold Reading

With so-called “Cold Reading”, the mentalist reads a person completely unknown to him. This means that he has a complete stranger in front of him, about whom he apparently has personal information that he cannot actually know.

Quick tip
Cold reading is commonly used to create the illusion of knowing something about a complete stranger.

This technique seems very magical and for the uninformed, it can actually give the impression that the mentalist is “reading” or “analyzing” the person, but in fact, it is just a mixture of clever word choice and good observation skills.

How Cold Reading works

Cold Reading always uses very general phrases that apply to a great many people. To give you an idea of what this means, here’s a concrete example:

When you are out with your friends, you are extroverted and like to party, but there are some traits that you actually show only to your loved ones, then you are introverted and think about problems for a long time.

An example for a cold reading sentence

Does this sentence apply to you? It probably does, because that’s exactly what it’s meant to achieve.

With a little acting talent and knowledge of human nature, a mentalist can then make it seem as if such a sentence is really tailored to a particular person.

Cold Reading is nothing more than the correct use of cleverly formulated sentences that apply to a great many people.

Tip: These sentences are often used in horoscopes and astrology to “predict” the future for a particular zodiac sign. Again, all statements are kept very general, so that they will apply to a very broad audience.

Cold Reading can be used in combination with Hot Reading to make as many different statements about a person, all of which are correct.

The Hot Reading

Unlike the Cold Reading, with Hot Reading, the mentalist knows some details about the person before the first encounter.

During the encounter, he then only has to distract and mislead the audience a little. This can be done, for example, by looking deeply into the person’s eyes or touching his hands, etc.

Quick tip
With "Hot Reading", the mentalist knows all the information he needs and only has to make it look like he's reading the person.

Of course, for this technique, the mentalist must be able to gather enough information about the right person before the first encounter.

However, this is not as difficult as one might think. Especially in social networks like Facebook or Instagram, many people present more than enough details about their lives – this can be used for hot reading.

Statistics and intuition in mentalism

If a mentalist is not able to gather any information about a person before the first meeting, the “Hot Reading” doesn’t work.

This means, the “Cold Reading” is the only way, but with generally valid sentences alone hardly anyone can be really impressed.

So how do mentalists manage to know so much about people they have actually never seen?

“Cold reading” alone is not enough, but it is a very good start – this is where intuition comes into play. Based on the reactions of the other person, an experienced mentalist can estimate a lot.

Body language, facial expressions, and gestures alone reveal much more about us than we think. Depending on how a person answers or reacts to certain sentences, certain character traits can be estimated.

If a person often hesitates in his answers, is deliberate and his body language is restrained (folded arms are an example), he will most likely be a shy, reserved person.

But statistics can also be very helpful in assessing people.

If you know that a certain percentage of all guys between 23 – 28 years tend to drink alcohol from time to time, it’s not unlikely that this will apply to a complete stranger.

But all of this might not quite be enough to do some real mental magic tricks, so here’s how these are done.

How magicians can do their mind reading tricks and predict answers

Now, after learning a few methods of mentalism, you might be thinking: “Okay, but how do magicians guess what I draw, or predict answers ahead of time?”.

These illusions are usually only possible because they are combined with magic tricks.

I’ll show a few different examples.

How magicians can guess what you draw (and replicate it perfectly)

This is a very popular magic trick, often performed as a “mind-reading” illusion.

Here’s how these tricks are typically performed:

The magician asks a spectator to draw anything he wants on a piece of paper or a playing card. Once the volunteer is done, the magician can replicate the drawing perfectly without looking at it or even knowing the other person.

First of all: there are many different ways to perform a trick like this, but it’s impossible to actually predict what a stranger will draw on a piece of paper.

The magician either has an assistant, or he uses sleight of hand to peek at the drawing unnoticed. It might sound impossible, but trust me, there are ways to do it.

If you are interested in learning more about these drawing magic tricks, I’ve written this post where I explain everything about it in detail.

The most important part about these mental tricks is misdirection, to control the attention of the audience.

How magicians can predict randomly selected words by the audiecne

This might look impossible when you first see a trick like this.

The audience can choose several different words, whatever they want, and the magician writes down his predictions on a few pieces of paper. This same method is used to correctly guess colors or other objects, randomly selected by the audience.

To achieve this trick, the magician is always one step ahead and writes his last prediction on the first piece of paper, and so on.

You can read all about how magicians can read the minds of their audience and predict words or other objects in this post.

This is a pretty clever illusion and a lot easier than you might expect.

How to guess a spectator’s number correctly

There are some math tricks out there that are used for mind-reading tricks, so I decided to include them in this post as well.

To make a long story short: you can basically use math to your advantage, and guess the spectator’s number correctly.

Just to clear things up: I’m not talking about phone numbers here, I’m talking about randomly selected digits.

You can check this tutorial, I’ve explained how you can perform a mind-reading math trick to guess a randomly selected number.

If you are interested in other number tricks, make sure to check these as well:

Mind-reading trick with paper (guessing the specatator’s choice)

For this mental trick, all you need is paper. Magicians like to use playing cards or business cards as well, but using some pieces of paper works just fine.

Here’s how the trick works:

The spectator can draw three different symbols on three pieces of paper, business cards, etc. He picks one, mixes them up and the magician is still able to tell which one he chose.

This is a rather easy trick that still looks amazing if you don’t know how it works.

If you want to know how it’s done, you can click this link to find my tutorial on the mind-reading trick with paper.

By the way: you don’t need any preparation for this effect, so you can perform it anywhere, as long as you have a pen and some paper.

How magicians use cards to read minds

Cards are a classic requisite in magic and many performers all over the world love to use them.

There are many reasons for that: they are small, cheap and everybody knows them. But the most important thing for magicians is that they can be controlled and manipulated very well.

You’ll find countless mind-reading card tricks out there, but the method is usually the same. The magician either controls or even knows the card before the trick starts. Everything else is just misdirection and the right show to make it look like a mental trick.

If you are interested, you can check the easiest mind-reading card trick I’ve learned since I started with magic by clicking here.

But there are many, many others, so whenever you see a “mind-reading” trick that is performed with cards, you basically know that it’s just sleight of hand or card control.

Mentalists vs. magicians – what are the differences?

Magicians perform tricks where they fool their audience with their dexterity and distraction to create “magical” effects.

In my opinion, mentalists are nothing other than magicians, the only difference being that they interact much more with the audience and seem to “get into the audience’s heads”.

However, for all tricks performed in front of an audience, there are always explanations, techniques, and secrets. Whether a magician or a mentalist, they both have the goal of entertaining their audience and creating a magical moment.

And whether or not it’s actually possible to read minds: if a mentalist or magician makes you believe that magic or mind-reading is real, even for just a short moment, he’s done a great job.

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