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Mindwise

How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel and Want

By Nicholas Epley
13-minute read
Audio available
Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel and Want by Nicholas Epley

In Mindwise, author Nicholas Epley looks at our ability to read the minds of other people, arguing that we believe ourselves to be far more adept at “mind reading” than we actually are. He reveals the common mistakes we make when trying to figure out what other people feel or want, and provides an entirely new perspective on how to handle both your own stereotypes and those of other people.

  • Anyone wanting to understand the desires of people around them
  • Anyone curious about the common mistakes we make when guessing others’ feelings
  • Anyone interested in learning how their own mind works

Nicholas Epley is a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In 2001, he earned his doctorate in psychology from Cornell University, and later became an assistant professor at Harvard University. His research includes studying intuitive human judgment and social cognition.

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Mindwise

How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel and Want

By Nicholas Epley
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel and Want by Nicholas Epley
Synopsis

In Mindwise, author Nicholas Epley looks at our ability to read the minds of other people, arguing that we believe ourselves to be far more adept at “mind reading” than we actually are. He reveals the common mistakes we make when trying to figure out what other people feel or want, and provides an entirely new perspective on how to handle both your own stereotypes and those of other people.

Key idea 1 of 8

We are often too confident that we understand our own minds.

Are you certain that you know what your partner is thinking when you see her frowning at you?

You might think you do, but the fact is, you can only guess. But at least you know everything about your own thoughts, right?

Wrong! Unfortunately, we don’t even have access to the mental processes that construct our own behavior.

Even though we think we know ourselves well, the truth is that we’re only aware of the “final product” of our thoughts. This is because the majority of our mental processes occur unconsciously, beyond our direct control.

The mind functions by making associations, meaning that two thoughts or behaviors that were previously connected can trigger one another.

For example: when you show a person the word “me” and then ask him to fill in the last two letters of the word “go_ _,” he will write “good,” rather than “goal.”

Why? Because he associates “me” with “good.”

Yet because of such associations, we may come up with an inaccurate self image. The connection between “me” and “good” may seem logical as you believe you are a good person; but really, it’s just that your brain simply associates the two words automatically.

Thus because we cannot access our thought processes completely, we then construct stories to make sense of our behavior.

In one study, participants were shown photos of two separate people and asked to choose the one they found more attractive.

Later, the same participants were handed a photo and asked to explain why they’d picked it. However, the photo was not the one they’d originally chosen; it was the other one, of the “unattractive” person.

Surprisingly, only 27 percent realized that the picture they were given was not the one they’d chosen. Even more so, those who didn’t realize the error then offered a compelling explanation for choosing the photo they were shown.

People create explanations for their own behavior in the same way as they try to read the minds of others: they observe their external behavior and then try to come up with a suitable explanation.

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