THE TELL by Matthew Hertenstein


The Little Clues that Reveal Big Truths About Who We Are
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In his debut, Hertenstein (Psychology/DePauw Univ.) contends that the predictive power of the human brain is exemplified by its ability to draw accurate conclusions “based on observations of brief samples of others' behavior.”

The author has honed his lively style with appearances on NPR and the Today Show and his commentaries in the New York Times and other major publications, and he takes his title from the psychological component in poker. An inexperienced player reveals clues to his hand by a variety of “tells.” Before deciding on a bet, an experienced player will judge “how an opponent stares, the speed with which he lays down cards, or how quickly he is breathing.” Hertenstein expands on this idea, examining, for example, physical and behavioral clues that indicate gay versus straight sexual orientation, as well as how experiments have revealed how “[t]he perceived power of male Fortune 500 CEOs’ faces predicts the profitability of their companies.” Further, marriage counselors who meet engaged couples can predict the likelihood of divorce with 90 percent accuracy by judging fleeting facial expressions and body language. Based on nonverbal clues, strangers watching only 30 seconds of a video can distinguish between instructors given a high- or low-quality end-of-term evaluation by their students. On a more serious note, Hertenstein looks at the experiences of soldiers in dangerous areas, who must remain alert to signs that a parked car might contain a bomb. Despite our useful ability to form accurate first impressions, the author rightly notes the importance of being open to information that contradicts as well as supports our hunches. “[S]cience will continue to identity the tells that truly are predictive versus those we merely think of as such,” writes the author in closing.

An entertaining look at our oft-maligned intuitive capabilities, offering useful tips on how we may sharpen our powers of observation and increase the accuracy of our predictions.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-465-03165-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2013


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