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on 21 February 2014
An American survey has revealed that the two most wanted superpowers are time travelling and mind reading.

This is an investigation into how mind reading can be achieved with lots of supporting evidence and references. There are also some challenges to more recently developed theories such as body language (listen instead!) and why you shouldn’t try to “put yourself in the other person’s shoes” (as suggested by Dale Carnegie).

The author maintains that your egocentrism gets in the way of your judgment. For example, you might be surprised for a moment that a blind man can perform tasks at night with no lights because you need the lights on. Tough guy actor Mark Wahlberg was supposedly due to fly on one of the 9/11 hijacked planes and has subsequently said in interviews that there would have been a very different outcome if he’d caught the flight. Sure. We’ve all thought ‘I would have done XYZ, not ABC’. You cannot truly understand a situation (e.g. being involved in mortal combat) unless you have been there yourself or talked to someone who has.

The book continues by suggesting that you can improve your decisions by improving your knowledge about what other people think. Political pollsters ask people how they would vote today, and not some point in the future. It is better to get a perspective than to take a perspective. Just because someone has liked cooking for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean that they want cookery things for their birthday.

The conclusion to the book is refreshingly simple and practical. If you want to know what people are thinking, Ask, don’t Guess.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 March 2014
Our actions are often inspired by what we think others think. Knowing the thoughts of other people accurately naturally means that our action will be appropriate and correct. Epley tells us, however, that knowing how others think is the big problem. That is not new or something we do not already know. In this book, Epley goes deeper into this problem and by understanding it, he hopes that his readers will be better placed to act correctly. It is not enough to put ourselves in the position of the other, for if we misunderstand his circumstances that will only increase our misunderstanding of that person's thinking.

It also appears axiomatic that we need to first know our own minds. Much has been said about the virtues and merits of introspection, and the wisdom of the man with deep personal insight. But apart from the illusion that introspection makes us believe that we know how our mind works and what we know, it also has the disturbing consequence of making us feel superior to the minds of others.

Epley explains the importance of perception and how that works when we evaluate another human being. He provides examples of how our thinking gets warped when we dehumanize another. Our moral and ethical behaviour get distorted if we think of others as less than human, and that anything non-human has no claim to respect.

This book is about understanding the human mind, not from a neurological perspective or even a psychological perspective (although the psychology of mind is the underlying basis), but on a practical perspective deriving from observations we can readily make of our interaction with other minds. We are repeatedly cautioned not to create stereotypes, but Epley shows us that in many instances, stereotyping works. This is not an endorsement of prejudice but a valuable lesson in knowing how our minds assess and analyse data when we are not consciously doing it. The author explains in what circumstances stereotyping works and when they do not. For example, stereotyping works better the more information we have - `Brilliant statisticians can look stupid when they conduct analyses on incomplete data'.

The major theme in this book is that we need a heavy dose of reality and humility if we are to understand the mind of another. The major obstacle in this regard is what Epley calls the `lens problem' - that we see others through the lens of our own eyes. Whenever we are unable to answer a question, such as, whether a Nigerian might enjoy raw tuna, depends on whether we see it from the lens of the Nigerian or our own - or that of a Japanese or an Eskimo. Citing the e-mail and God as examples, Epley explains that short, incomplete e-mail compels the reader to interpret the things unsaid or inadequately explained. The reader does this by transposing his own mind into the mind of the writer in guessing the full meaning of the text, or in understanding the gaps in the text. Similarly, believers consult God in deep and serious matters such as moral conduct, gay marriage, and abortion. The problem, as Epley points out, God does not answer opinion polls and send express answers. Believers thus see God's position on such matters through the lens of the believers' own eyes.

Epley reports that experiments using neuroimaging on neural activity showed that when a person reasoned about his own beliefs his neural activity pattern differed from the instances when he reasoned about other people's beliefs. However, the researchers could not tell any difference in neural pattern when a person was reasoning about his own beliefs and when he was reasoning God's beliefs. The experiments were then tweaked so that the subjects' thinking was manipulated (by showing them one-sided arguments). The subjects' neural pattern changed in line with the manipulation, and more importantly, their reasoning as to God's beliefs also fell in line with their manipulated thinking.

Another trap in deception lies in the mistake of reading another person's action as a reflection of that person's thoughts. This form of misleading thought process has many variations ranging from film stars falling in love with their co-stars after playing through a love script in the film, and jury members whose decisions follow in line with the evidence that they had been told to disregard.

There are thus many layers of introspection that we should develop, and if we cross each layer with a strong dose of humility, that will help us to `recognise that there is more to the mind of another person than we may ever imagine.' We often buy presents for our spouse believing that we know what they want, only to realise that we were wrong. `Knowing others' minds requires asking and listening, not just reading and guessing'.
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One of my pet hates is people who try and tell me what I’m thinking when I say something – or tell me my reasons for making a particular remark or performing a particular action. My invariable response is ‘Don’t try and tell me what is going on in my head – you don’t know unless I tell you.’ Human beings are prone to thinking that everyone shares their beliefs and thoughts and as a result we misjudge people, especially those close to us on a daily basis. As a result we end up quarrelling for no real reason.

This book provides many examples – academic, anecdotal and historical – of human beings misunderstanding each other with frequently disastrous consequences. We never seem to learn from our mistakes and continue to think we are excellent at mindreading and understanding precisely how others think and believe. What we continually fail to realise is that not everyone is like us.

The book looks at stereotypes and how damaging they can be in our relationships with others. It also looks as anthropomorphism and the human habit of endowing other species and inanimate objects with human emotions and characteristics.

While the book quotes many academic studies it is written in a way which will appeal to the general reader as well. There are notes on each chapter and an index. If you want to understand how you misinterpret other people then read this book.

I received a free copy of this book for review.
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on 5 March 2014
Nicholas Epley is an outstanding professor in Chicago Booth's MBA Program, whose class I was very fortunate to attend. He now published a very insightful, interesting and easy-to-read book which explains how our mind works and which distortions prevent us from achieving an effective outcome. In the same way that his classes were inspiring and thought-provoking, the book is scientifically rigorous while fun to read.
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on 13 June 2015
Epley argues that we are overconfident in our understanding of ourselves and others. We don't know how other people are judging us - we don't know how attractive we are or how we are doing at a job interview. We also don't know how we will behave - people who said historically in the US that they would not serve non-whites generally did so, when put to the test by non-whites turning up for service in a historic experiment. Turning to the explanation of all this, Epley points out that we're not all that good at introspection or perception - we jump to conclusions about the world and we confabulate about ourselves. We can dehumanise other people at a distance from us - most notably it's easier to kill other people when you can't see the whites of their eyes (in war). And we can humanise the non-human - when we have a temperamental piece of machinery or car. We tend to see ourselves as at the centre of the world, and accept more than our fair share of credit or blame for joint enterprises. We worry too much about what other people think about us - they probably don't think about us much at all. When it comes to other people, body language merely 'whisper' and phone conversation we find a lot easier than email to pick up the nuances of communication. There is of course empathy (e.g. with our children when they hurt themselves) and also active reflection about what other feel (as with most doctoring) as well as blanking out the feelings of others.We use stereotypes to reason about other people when we don't know much about them. And we tend to ignore contextual factors when interpreting other people's actions - maybe the people who didn't flee Hurricane Katrina had large families and no transport, for example..

As to what we should do to improve matters, Epley doesn't go much for trying to put yourself in someone else's shoes - this leads to just thinking the worst about what they'd do so much better not to try. Nor is body language the key, in his view - micro expressions don't really seem to do the job, he says, drawing on experimental evidence. What he does recommend is asking other people where they are coming from and what they want - Kennedy and Khrushchev managed this during the Cuban Missile Crisis and if it works for them it works for anyone (better than anything else).

Actually at this point I remembered where we came in and the hoteliers who'd said they would not serve non-whites (when asked) but actually did so on autopilot when it came to it - which rather detracted from my confidence in the one 'take-away' message in the book.

Interesting then, but not much help in everyday living - except to make us aware of some of our shortcomings as everyday mind readers.
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on 18 May 2014
At first glance i kind of thought this book would only be about winning, or getting your way. Where ever i got that idea from, i was wrong. Maybe because it was adressed as "others" and not me. Sure, you can look at it that way too. But it is not like some how to be rich in 30days or how to find the perfect partner.

I have 75 books on my shelf all about self help, phycology, etc those lines.
And this will be on my top 5 of books which have thaught me and helped me the most.

I find it humble, funny, surprising, very insightful, and sometimes it stirs me up because how on earth have i overlooked something so obivious.
It does not go into outerspace trying to explain something, with symbols, mystic or over complicated graphs and drawings.
It is also about you, and not only others.
It does not try to point fingers at anyone.
Stays within subject.
everyone will be able to read it, it has Little or no jargon (i dont mind jargon. but it is somewhat a relief to be without it) if it does it will usually be explained.
I like that it gives as many answers as it asks, i hate it when all a book does is to say.. "think about it.. think about it.. what does it mean.." And not providing anything to acually think about, or start your thinking befor moving to the next page where your asked a multitude battery of questions again only to be somewhat more confused.
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on 5 June 2014
Debunks a lot of nonsense about 'reading' people, mirroring and micro-expressions. Gives a well-grounded and well-researched overview. At the end of the day if you want to understand what someone is thinking or feeling - ask them; then listen hard.
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on 24 June 2015
Perfect, purchase arrived really early and in lovely condition thank you, super seller will use again
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on 22 August 2014
Well worth the ready. Informative and thought provoking - I really liked it.
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on 3 February 2016
Gave as a gift to support worker in mental health. Really usefull book
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