Deathhacker: We Put A Psychic 'Ghost Whisperer' To The Test

Suzie Price is an Australian psychic and self-described "ghost whisperer" who purports to be able to communicate with the dead. Last week, we arranged for Suzie to conduct a face-to-face psychic reading with three Lifehacker staff: an ultra-sceptic, a fence-sitter and a true believer. The results were not what we were expecting...

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Suzie Price is one of Australia's leading "psychic mediums" who has been conducting personal readings for over 15 years. She recently won the International Psychic Association's "People's Choice" award for 2014 Psychic of the year and just published her first book.

Suzie claims to have been able to see spirits since the age of seven when she was involved in a serious car accident. She now uses her alleged gift to connect people with their deceased loved ones, at $150 a pop. Here's the spiel from her website:

The psychic messages that come to Suzie can be startling and astounding. She is such a clear and angelic messenger to the other side, her readings can unexpectedly take many people by surprise. Suzie's kindness, honesty and accurate readings are earning her a healthy reputation throughout Australia, she is now receiving many clients internationally as well.

To discover whether there's any truth to all this ghost malarkey, we invited Suzie to Lifehacker HQ to conduct a psychic reading. Along for the ride were Gizmodo editor Luke Hopewell, Allure Media's design guru Joy Oxley and myself. This represented a pretty even spread of belief levels: Luke is an agnostic at heart, whereas Joy is a firm believer in things that go bump in the night. Personally, I think anything that can't be readily explained by science probably hasn't been studied hard enough.

Suzie proved to be a delightful woman in her late thirties who was happy to be scrutinised under Lifehacker's microscope. Until the moment she stepped through our doors, Suzie had no idea who she would be reading for. This removed the possibility of sneaky information gathering via Google.

The reading involved the three of us holding hands while Suzie scribbled down messages from alleged spirits and quizzed us about what these ghostly tidings could mean. We also had to hand over an important personal artefact which Suzie would occasionally touch throughout the reading. (Joy and I gave our wedding rings. Amusingly, Luke opted to hand over his iPhone.)

The reading took around 40 minutes, during which all manner of seemingly on-point messages came to light. Were they lucky coincidences or revelations from beyond the grave? Read on for our individual verdicts:

Chris Jager (The sceptic)

As much as I love a good spine-chilling ghost story, I've never been a big believer in the supernatural. As far as I can tell, there's never been a single shred of compelling evidence to suggest this stuff is legit. (Grainy photos of vaguely humanoid shadows and weird lights aren't particularly compelling in my books.)   Believers are always banging on about how ghosts appear in hundreds of ancient cultures that were developed independently of one another. To me, this doesn't prove anything. After all, the same thing can be said about fairies, goblins, dragons and mermen yet you don't see many people insisting these exist. Also, if ghosts are real, how come there hasn't been a mountain of evidence since the advent of the camera phone and 24-hour digital surveillance? Tch.   Personally, I think our belief in the supernatural stems from some bizarre cognitive defence mechanism that helped cavemen make the right decision during fight-or-flight situations. Think about it. You're a lot less likely to hang out in dark, potentially dangerous places if you believe in spooky spirits. But I digress.   After watching Suzie the ghost whisperer in action, I can't say my opinion has changed much. Some of her statements were surprisingly on the money -- the CBS thing with Luke [which he explains below] was particularly weird. She also did a pretty good job at pinpointing which family members had passed on in all of our families.   With that said, there were also a lot of questions and messages that went nowhere. A believer would probably put this down to interference from other spirits. If so, our office was pretty crowded with spectral hangers-on that day.   Regardless of whether Suzie's abilities are the real deal or not, there's little doubt in my mind that she sincerely believes in her abilities. This isn't some gypsy cardsharp looking to hoodwink the gullible. If you believe in this sort of thing, I reckon you'll probably get your money's worth.

Luke Hopewell (The fence-sitter)

So I'm the fence-sitter in this psychic caper. As a Christian, I'm open to religious happenings and spiritual connections with things not of the world that you or I can touch, see and feel. Having said that, people are assholes as a general rule, meaning that people like TV ministers willing to cash in on the beliefs of others are a dime a dozen. It's religion mixed with a healthy dose of real-world cynicism.   I've wanted to do a "reading" type experience for a while, mostly because I'm interested in the idea of what's coming at me in life. Honestly, I believe that "readings" that predict the future or guesstimate the past serve to give people a sense of destiny. "There's a new job in your future," might prompt someone to be open to new career prospects in a way they might not have been before the reading. Likewise with family and children. "I see many new kids in your future," might friendly-up the idea of having kids to the person having the reading. It primes the mind for new things rather than predict the future.   When it comes to spiritual crossing over events, I'm even more sceptical, mostly because it's John Edwards-style word association for the most part. While Suzie came off as genuine and strongly convinced by her readings, I was still in two minds.   I haven't really had anyone pass over who means a whole lot to me just yet. I'm lucky in that way. That made me very interested in what my "reading" would turn out to be.   For the most part, it was fairly uninspiring and focused on the departed souls of people related to Chris and Joy, but one thing which did shock me was when Suzie was able to accurately work out who I had previously worked for and where I was doing a lot of work now outside of Gizmodo.  

I previously worked at a publication called ZDNet, which is owned by CBS Interactive in Australia. For a moment, Suzie turned to me and asked if I had worked at CBSi: not something you'd easily know unless you were weirdly familiar with how Australian tech publishers work.   She followed that up within seconds with a question about the nature of my on-air work with the ABC. For the last few years I've done countless TV, radio and online things for Auntie, popping up here and there to talk tech with various programs.   There's the assumption that Suzie knew who I was going into the experience, but she swears she didn't do any research on any of us beforehand.   I'm still a fence-sitter, but I'm a little more creeped out than I was before.

Joy Oxley (The believer)

Although I am a 'believer', I still go into any kind of psychic reading with a little scepticism. After all, there are many frauds out there who only want to cash in on people's emotions.   Suzie however, doesn't come off like one of those people. She's sweet, kind and genuinely seems happy to help you connect with a loved one who has passed on. The thing I noticed with Suzie compared to some mediums you see on TV is that she didn't constantly ask questions unless your answers were vague. The three of us weren't too eager to give too much information – so we probably weren't very helpful!   With me in particular, she would ask a name, and ask uncertainly if they had died a certain way (though she was accurate on all accounts) - and from there she would make statements. Something as simple as "X really misses Y." with no prior indication if Y were still alive, or even still in the picture. She made many statements about me that were eerily accurate – without any extra information from me. (There was no way she even knew I was coming for a reading, and my personal life is not out there for anyone to research.) There was a certainty in her statements that have made me, even as a believer, question my own way of dealing with "the other side".   All in all, I think save for one or two things that could be chalked up to mixed messages with her having to read for 3 people at the same time, Suzie seems like the real deal.

So what do you guys think? Have you ever experienced a "happening" of one spooky description or another? Share your stories (or well-placed cynicism) in the comments section below.

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Comments

    The thing I've noticed about these people is that they never actually converse with the so called spirits in the room... The information is always one way, and usually ambiguous... As much as I'd like to believe they can do what they say, I always feel disappointed with the end result..!

      My mum went to one of these people once. She was told that I was going to be a drug addict. I didn't get told that's what she said until a few years later.

      Anyway, I'm still waiting for my drug addiction.

    Brilliant, now someone at last will be able to collect the $1 million James Randi Challenge. All she has to do is conclusively prove she has true psychic powers, pretty simple for her. No need to charge $150 a pop anymore, she has $1 million in the bank.....maybe.

    Think of all the wondrous things that the dead could tell us about the afterlife, funny how these so called psychics only say "George says he's very happy and he loves you", Edith said don't forget to put the cat out". What total BS, just a lot of con artists.

    Lifehacker please let Suzie Price know about the James Randi Challenge.

    Last edited 11/09/14 4:13 pm

      I love how the spirits these people contact never seem angry or mad that they're dead, or hell bent on getting revenge to people they once knew. It's always "Oh, don't worry about me, I'm in a better place now!", & "I love you".

      It's never "Urgh, just leave me to rest in peace ALONE would you?!" or "I've been watching you and I hate you now"....

      Just once I'd like to see John Edwards/et al. say "Does anyone know an Amber? You? Oh, Amber wants to pass on this message: Go F*** Yourself".

      That'd be much more believable....

      Or even better, rather than bothering Randi talk to the locals!
      http://www.skeptics.com.au/features/prize/

      $100k prize from Australian Skeptics - Start here and if you win then you can use the winnings to go to the US and win the million!

    Should've made up a story about a dead relative you were trying to contact and seen if she magically "talks" to them. As she throws up (obviously bogus) responses from the "spirit", make the appropriate "Ooooh" and "Omg how'd you know that?" noises. Then tell her you fabricated the dead relative, there was no way she was actually contacting anything, and make a scene when she tries to charge you $150 anyway.

    No. Just, no. Don't give these people your money.

      I mean if they insist on giving them money in the interest of journalism or science then try and add some kind of inquisition.

      Assuming she is a cold reader, the whole point of cold reading is to control an interaction to leave people with a specific experience rather than reflect the actual. So the worst possible way to critically examine it is to simply recount subjective experiences.... Film the whole thing so you can look over wording, see if she might have fished for hints somewhere else in the conversation (That you might not have realised you gave).

      Going even further and dropping hints at false information might be worthwhile too but is risky, if she's a better cold reader than you are liar it simply won't work.

      And if you go in assuming she's cold reading and try to test for that, then if she isn't you might actually have a good premise for an article.

    Would've loved her to handle Luke's iPhone, state "I'm receiving something" and then he gets an SMS...

    Should have the 3 people swap personalities. Have Chris read up on everything about Joy, Luke on Chris and Joy on Luke. Then when the psychic comes have them play as themselves with the history of the person they read up on....

    The question then is, under constantly contradictory information. Does the psychic bring up information relevant to the person, or the fake persona or will she be unable to see any spirits?

    "For a moment, Suzie turned to me and asked if I had worked at CBSi: not something you’d easily know unless you were weirdly familiar with how Australian tech publishers work."
    ...or you knew how to search somebodies linkedin profile.

    AMAZING! She knew so much about Luke Hopewell. Exactly what a 2 second Google search came up with when I looked at his LinkedIn profile.

    Background research and cold readings. The tools of any "psychic".

      As mentioned above, Suzie was not told who she would be reading for prior to showing up at our office. It's possible she Googled every single Allure Media employee and somehow memorised all this information but it seems pretty unlikely. I don't believe in ghosts but I don't think she willfully deceives her customers either.

        I do.
        You're naive if you believe otherwise.

          Not naive. You can be an atheist and still believe that some priests are sincere in their convictions. Same goes for sceptics and "psychics".

            Convictions, yes. Abilities, no.

              We weren't arguing about abilities. The above comment was debating whether she purposely deceives her customers or truly believes she can "see" ghosts. In either scenario, the ghosts aren't actually there.

                She may not see a quick Google search as being deceiving. Maybe it's just her way of "opening the channels".
                Having said that, a good cold reader is a very convincing actor...

                  they apparently spend $450 on these 3 readings, they have to justify it somehow, be it at a sub-conscious level or not

                  There would be a simple enough test for this. Take Joe Bloggs along and introduce him as Luke Hopwell. If information about the real Luke Hopwell is forthcoming, she is a fraud. In the unlikely event that bizarre info about Joe Bloggs comes out, she's a damn good fraud.

                HI,
                i KNOW WHATS GOING ON. AND This is not a mystery really ,every 2 people in 3 can do whats she is doing even better. my mom is doing it ,too. Many people out there but they are hiding it or being very careful. Or so manipulative you dont even recognize. this is the scary thing. many people are so false with this skill. it is mind reading. they hear level of information somehow.they could hear a conversation they could even put themselves in body language of someone else. nothing nice or interesting here.you dont wanna mess up someone like that. because they could really mess up with your mind. that said , most are not nice people .

        Anything she can do, I can do better! As a professional magician it is easy to replicate everything she did, except we don't make mistakes.
        These people are only doing very basic, low quality magic tricks. Back in the days when I was operating a magic shop they would often come to me to buy tricks. The conversation went a bit like this....
        "I just need one or two tricks to help me gain a rapport with the client. After I gain their confidence then the psychic channels will take over."
        Yeah right!

          You should offer to do the same reading to other Allure employees and see if you can be more convincing mate! Bloody "Psychics" piss me off.

        If she truly believes she can talk to the dead then I would imagine she should probably talk to her local mental health unit who can assist her in understanding and improving her mental health.

        If she doesn't truly believe it she should be taken to the cops and charged for false advertising!

        But the editor of Allure's biggest site (Giz) was in on the reading, you don't think she could have done some research about the big names in the organisation as they were the ones likely to sit in on the reading?

        Cmon mate think about it... The only person who she got things right about was the simplest and easiest info to find online don't be so naive.

          "Until the moment she stepped through our doors, Suzie had no idea who she would be reading for." But she knew she would be reading for employees of Allure media, and Luke is one of the organisation's most prolific posters...

          As in your case, I'm not convinced.

          I'm sure she was very warm and convincing. “Sincerity - if you can fake that, you've got it made.” -- George Burns.

          This needs to be a double blind test. At the very least, she must be talking to people with absolutely no idea of who she will be talking to.

          P.S. Then there was the midget spiritualist who escaped from jail. The headlines read "Small Medium at Large".

          Last edited 14/09/14 8:06 pm

    I encourage everyone commenting here to watch one of Derren Brown's stage shows (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1494925/) - if you still believe in psychic powers after he manipulate's your mind in unbelievable ways, then you are a fool.

    So... when we use the term "medium" in this context, is it more correct to pluralise as media?

    Oh, maybe this can be the subject of another Accuracy Matters... :D

    Hello Suzie,
    I Sure hope you find this message yourself :) Would be an honor for you to see it aswell..
    I am in Australia, I have been Pagan my whole life.. my journey has been somewhat crazy.. I Do doubt myself in things i see, I also am skeptikal sometimes on things i vision.
    I to am a Psychic Medium, i am of 42yrs and i have experienced supernatural for many years, i have also worked with some people for answers on loved ones, done tarot readings, i do not however charge people or gone public knowledge with mine.
    people commenting on this page, and the people in the interview, please believe what suzie has told you, all of this is not bullshit it is real believe it.
    I have seen to much myself as a psychic medium to not know. each to they're own beliefs and all of that. you all can believe in what you wish, I am just saying to you as another person who has a real ability.. to comment here to verify these things do really happen.. thankyou so much and i am so glad i came across this post today. enjoy your experiences as a psychic medium as much as i do suzie and blessings xoxox
    I might just also point out, Demons, Ghosts, Any kind of form can be in your home not all are peaceful, just be warned, pets and children see them first, if you hear doors opening, footsteps, feel energy of something, or what have u your place is in fact haunted lol. Always Believe in your children if they come to you and seen something :) thankyou!

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