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Pseudoscience Experiment: Palm Reading

Palm reading is thought to originate in India over 4,000 years ago, but spread
throughout Europe and Asia so long ago that its origins are literally lost in time.
Alexander the Great was introduced to it by his childhood tutor, Aristotle, and is
supposed to have been an enthusiastic proponent of it. He reportedly analyzed the palms of his generals, but oddly, he never caught on that his lifeline must have been alarmingly short compared to theirs. Otherwise he might have kept his empire past the age of thirty two. Today you will find palm readers at fairs and street festivals, in booths at new age shops, and even with brick and mortar businesses of their very own. If you are curious and don’t mind parting with a few bucks, you and your kid can try one out in your home town. But why do that when you can learn a few of the tricks yourself and test it out? This week’s pseudoscience experiment is to test palm reading!

a fortune teller reading a person s hand
Photo by cottonbro studio on

It turns out that there really are “rules” to palm reading. Below are a few. While you read the instructions below look at your own hand and read the lines on it. It is amazing how compelling it gets…

  • Start by looking at the dominant hand. It reveals what is going on in the person’s life right now, while the other hand reveals inherited traits. So if there is anything bad on the non-dominant hand of your kid you can blame yourself. If there are big differences between the hands that means the person has worked hard to change themselves.
  • The horizontal lines should be read from the thumb across, and vertical lines from the wrist up. The topmost line on the hand is the “heart line.” If it is close to the fingers it shows that the person is passionate, sometimes jealous and angry. If the line curves up, they are affectionate. If it goes straight across they keep tight control of their emotions. If there are breaks in the heart line the person has experienced heartbreak.
  • The next line down on the hand is the “head line.” If the line is straight across then the person is no-nonsense. If it is curvy the person tends to daydream. If it curves down toward the wrist the person is creative.
  • The next line down is the line that curves from the wrist to the space just above the thumb. This is the famous life line. If it is deep that means the person has ambition. If it is shallow they like to go with the flow.

While reading your own palm didn’t you feel a twinge of recognition? Weren’t
there moments when it seemed accurate? It did for me. Here is the trick of palm
reading: every description works. We are complicated creatures. Every label you can give whether it is passionate, jealous, angry, affectionate, controlled, heartbroken, no-nonsense, daydreamy, creative, ambitious, or easy going, is an accurate description of each of us at many times in our lives. If you say someone is jealous and passionate, they will remember a time when they were, and agree with you. Say the opposite, that they are controlled and disciplined, and they will remember a time when that description applied, and agree with you. If the person having their palm read wants to believe then it is easy for them to find evidence to do so. Palm readers rely on the desire to believe in order for their descriptions to work. It is the confirmation bias that is primarily at work in palm reading, along with some of the Barnum effect.

To test palm reading, try this experiment: Read your child’s palm using the guidelines above, but reverse all of them. For example, if the heart line is close to the fingers say they are calm. If the headline is curvy then say they are no-nonsense. Give them the opposite reading and see what they say. I recommend really hamming it up and acting like you are tuning in to the spirit-world! Make it fun. Since the Barnum effect is at work, the description you give, any description, will work. Then explain what you did and why it worked. Teach them how to read the lines and have them try it both ways with you – it works either way!

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