Animals and humans think, but only humans can understand what others are thinking. Without this ability, cooperative society is unimaginable. It’s a sixth sense, akin to mind reading, writes Epley (Behavioral Science/Univ. of Chicago School of Business) in this clever psychology primer.
“[M]y goal is to describe your brain’s predictable malfunctions that keep you from understanding the minds of others as well as you could,” writes the author, who quickly points out how we get it wrong. At worst, we neglect our mind-reading ability on the grounds that another has no mind—i.e., dehumanization. German Jews and Native Americans were once viewed, and even legally labeled, as subhuman. Readers will nod sadly and agree that all men are brothers—except terrorists, of course, who are mindless psychopaths. We also do the opposite, writes Epley. We attribute minds to mindless entities that behave in unpredictable ways: hurricanes, the stock market, computers, cars, etc. Our mental tools provide imperfect insights: We know our own minds intimately, so egocentricity exerts too much influence. We label others as stereotypes. Although politically incorrect, stereotyping is not entirely inaccurate but emphasizes differences over similarities. We assume that a person’s actions reflect his or her thoughts, but this is surprisingly undependable. The best way to determine what another person is thinking—proven by scientific studies—is to ask. Epley presents a steady stream of imaginative studies. Although readers will learn a great deal, they must remember that the author is a teacher and scientist, not a media guru, so his advice for improving mind reading emphasizes avoiding the usual mistakes. Oprah would not perk up.
Epley ably explores many entertaining and entirely convincing mistakes, so readers will have a thoroughly satisfying experience.