Do psychics actually believe the predictions they are making?

I’ve read a bunch of SD articles about psychics and their (lack of) power. I’ve never believed in psychics myself, but it does make me wonder. Do psychics actually believe what they are saying? It seems to me that to make successful predictions a person needs a lot of practice in learning the techniques. Could someone pick these up unintentionally or are all psychics knowingly scamming everyone? What do you think?

Once, rather on a lark, I applied for a job as a telephone psychic. It was an education! Some of the people there did believe that they had psychic powers…and others did not! I was only there for an hour, so my observation is limited…

(One thing I did admire: they had rules against customer abuse. For instance, they were not allowed to let customers become dependent on them. If someone called too many times, the psychics had to cut them off. Also, they had very strict rules against giving any kind of medical advice.)

Trinopus (not at all psychic…more than a little psycho…)

Some may believe it. But then they would have to be willfully ignorant of their failures to predict.

A large number of them are self-deluded enough to think they actually have powers, but the real professionals (esepcially the big names) are generally purely cynical con artists.

There is a long-term poster right here on SDMB who is a fortune-teller, and she seems to make no bones about knowingly taking advantage of her clients, even though she has admitted that she realizes that she has no psychic powers.

She is not one of the more well respected Dopers, to put it mildly…

My Mum reads tarot cards and doesn’t believe she has actual magical/psychic powers, nor is she a cynical con artist - her approach seems to be that she’s got good people skills, is a qualified councilor and the cards give her a medium though which she can channel her skills. She does seem to have a talent for something, as people go away very satisfied. Being of a more empirical mind I tell her repeatedly what nonsense I think it is but I am surprised at how good she is at picking things up from people when she gives them a reading.

Yep, some do, some don’t. They’re just as susceptible to confirmation bias as anyone else.

The more financially successful ones, however, don’t believe, in my experience. The ones who do can’t seem to get their own lives together.

Two good friends of mine (both of the type who do believe) work for psychic phone lines of the tarot reading type. One is a man, one a woman, and both report that 99.99% of the phone calls are about love and money. Health issues are a distant third. Even with their belief in psychic phenomena, they put more emphasis on the “advice” part than the “psychic” part. No, honey, he’s not going to leave his wife for you. Yes, if you want to make more money, going back to school is an excellent idea…that sort of thing. Both of them really do have a deck of cards in front of them when you call, and they do reference the traditional meanings of the cards they pull, as well as anything they intuit during the reading.

John Edward: Look. What I do doesn’t hurt anybody. I give people closure and help them cope with life.
Stan: No, you give them false hope and a belief in something that isn’t real.
John Edward: But I’m a psychic.
Stan: No dude, your a douche.
John Edward: I’m not a douche. What if I really believe that dead people talk to me?
Stan: Then you’re a stupid douche.
That last line is really all you need to know. All ‘psychics’ are douches, and if they really believe what that say, they’re stupid to boot.

I don’t get it. If they believe what they say, they’re stupid, but not douches.

It’s not a matter of “think” or of a personal opinion.

Charlatans have been successful for all human history. Assuming they are legit, as you are making in your question, is one of the reasons they have been as successful as they are in all recorded history.

How is the OP assuming psychics are “legit”?

One of the more famous skeptics (might be Michael Shermer but don’t hold me to that) expresses the view that most of them start out as believers.

Time goes by, and when the “gift” doesn’t come as reliably as they believe, they have to make little compromises of showmanship to keep things going, which they justify to themselves as white lies behind which a genuine truth is just waiting to burst out.

Later still, as the “gift” still doesn’t work like they originally believed and they are doing more and more compromising to keep the balls in the air, there must come a point where they realise its bollocks, but by that time they are so invested in their own mythology that they are unwilling to back out. So they rationalise along the lines of the John Edward pseudo-quote above and become frank frauds, or they get out of it and sell insurance or whatever.

Sounds a pretty likely career progression to me.

By asking if psychics could believe their false claims are true.

Cite? I find it hard to believe that any big-name psychic would publically admit that their powers are bogus, as they’d be irreparably damaging their rather lucrative businesses. And I find it even harder to believe that any of them have personally confided to you their opinions.

I think there’s a lot of this, actually. Fortune tellers have a relationship with their clients that resembles that of an advice provider or even therapist, and that is probably the role they were playing in pre-scientific societies, before the development of psychological science. Even though there’s no evidence that they have any supernatural skills, they can probably do a lot of good only with their interpersonal skills. Even today some people are skeptical of the medical/mental health establishment and are more likely to consult a fortune teller than an actual professional, which is obviously an inferior choice but still better than nothing, I suppose. Unless the fortune teller actually gives dangerous advice, but as far as I know they won’t tell them to quit taking their medication or anything like that.

MPB in Salt Lake, if the poster you’re talking about is the one I’m thinking about (didn’t know she was a fortune teller, but it makes sense), I don’t think she knowingly takes advantage of her clients. I would suppose (but I haven’t read those posts) that she figures fortune telling is traditional in her culture, and that it is the way in which they provide each other advice still today, so she may as well do it if she’s got some sort of talent for it. A bit like WhyNot said, and like I said earlier about pre-scientific societies.

Well some forms of psychic ability do have a “logic” behind them. This is not to say that that logic is correct, I don’t believe it, but it does follow a pattern.

Like reading cards for instance. It’s not a simple as just looking at the card. The cards have meaning and you “learn” how to “correctly” interpret them, as opposed to just reading the cards.

Same thing for palmistry. I read a few books on it. I don’t believe in it but I can read people’s palms. It’s about interpreting how the lines and bumps on the hand are. A long life line doesn’t merely indicate how long you live. It’s relative to the other lines and bumps.

Like I said, I believe it’s bunk, but like anything it’s fun. It’s fun to go to a haunted house at an amusement park. Of course it’s not real, but it’s more fun if you believe. The problem is when people take it seriously enough to alter their lives.

And nearly identical to the career progression I’ve observed in small business owners, people working in not-for-profits, medicine, education, social work and other careers. People start out believing in their “cause” and find out that the world doesn’t work the way they thought it did. Some roll with the punches and continue, others become cynical and change careers.

Indeed. One of those “psychic” friends of mine, in fact, is a medical social worker in his other career.

If this were another thread I might compare them to clergy. But the point I wanted to make is that I actually had psychic powers I would use them to get rich in the stock market or something like that. I certainly wouldn’t sit at a telephone fielding calls from nincs who believed what I was saying.

Not psychics in the fortune-telling sense, but about psi-powers in general: a lot of people claim to be able to dowse water. When for example the Pro 7 channel tested a guy in a double-blind experiment with buckets of water, before the test he was completly sure that he could find the water in the buckets - look, his wand moved! Then, when he failed the test (predictibly) he found excuses that somehow, buckets are not the same as running water etc. No matter what he had claimed before, faced with a worrying proposition (that his powers weren’t real) he found ways around. The human psyche is very good at making excuses for ourselves: that’s why 70% of drivers are convinced that everybody else is a bad driver, but they are the exception who’s better than the average. Same mechanism.

There was also a young girl who did a study of aura-reading for a science fair once (the test got entered into a scientific journal). People who believed they could feel auras had to place their hands into an opening and tell whether the tester was holding her hand underneath or not. They all failed (naturally), but none of them realized “Oh, I guess I don’t have real powers after all, then”, they found excuses that the stress was making them off etc. Despite all of them having stated before the test that they were fine and at optimum performance.

I remember also Douglas Adams in one of the later Hitch-hiker books, comparing tarot reading to the little iron filings that you use to indicate magnetic lines: the tarot cards themselves are just a way to help an experienced “psychic” read what’s there.

And Terry Pratchett, in his Discworld and Tiffany Aching books, has repeatdly told of how common sense advice is accepted by certain people better when packaged in a certain form - people won’t build their privay away from the well if you tell them about invisible bacteria, but if the witch tells them that demons will haunt them if they don’t move the privy, they listen.

So a knowingly “fake” psychic with good intentions, common sense and a good people skill (which the Doper mentioned above claims to be) can be a genuinly good counselor to those people who wouldn’t listen to other advice. Just as priests and pastors give advice on many worldly things to other people, too (and are trained for this).

Obviously, this is different from vultures like Sylvia Browne who intentionally exploits people. And yes, in an ideal world, people wouldn’t be superstitious. But meanwhile, I’d rather have “good fake psychics” than predators.

To those who genuinly believe, they might be convinced that in order to keep their gift, they are obliged to do good by helping other people (that would be with modest fees, obviously), or that the spirits will give them only advice on interpersonal matters and not on the stock market.

Which isn’t that much of a stretch - how many non-psychic people feel that they can give interpersonal advice to others, because they have life experience, or see clearer than those involved what’s going on, but have no knowledge about the stock market to give advice on? (whether they’re objectivly right or grossly mistaken is another question.)