How to become a better mind reader and guess what people think

How to become a better mind reader and guess what people think

Few months ago, I did a small presentation at EMC Consulting about how to become a better mind reader. The session was a success, so I decided to write a post about it. The talk aimed to teach how to develop mind reading skills using the later scientific research on mind reading. 


Mind reading and science 

Mind reading is a skill that we use every day with colleagues, clients, and friends. We do it everyday, but we’re pretty bad at it. You may think that mind reading is science fiction, but in reality the scientific research is taking the subject really seriously. Nicholas Epley, professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago, is investigating about intuitive human judgment and why we are so bad at it even thought it’s something that we practice everyday.


Why we are so bad

We tend to reason about other people mental state by starting with our own and the adjusting to other people. The problem is that we got massive micro knowledge about ourselves, but others people don’t have this knowledge. It’s like looking at the world with the microscope, while other people use a broad lens to judge us. We see ourself in lots of details, but other sees us under a much broader lens.  Epley did many experiments in mind reading, or what he calls intuitive. Two experiments are particular interesting.


Experiment one: pose for a picture 

106 participants were asked to pose for a picture. Then they were told that a group would rate them in either a day or a month. They had to predict those ratings. Epley guessed that participants were going to be more accurate for predictions made in the future, because people think about the future using broad, high-level perspective. He was right. The group guessing the rating of the day after, were mentioning detailed trail such as ‘look tired’ whereas the group guessing the rating of one month ahead were more general, like ethnicity, for instance ‘Asian woman’.


Experiment two: put yourself in someone else shoes 

He replicated the study to test weather putting yourself in someone else shoes was more effective than thinking about your opinion in the future. Participants we told to adopt the prospective of another students, who might see the picture from a different prospective. The strategy of putting yourself in other people shoes was of little help. It was better to think of your opinion in one month ahead. Using a similar lens the other people will use, not a microscope but a broad lens.


The lesson to learn 

If you want to understand how others see you, put away the fine-grained details and take a ‘big picture’ look at yourself. If you’re worried that other people will judge you too harshly for a mistake, try to zoom away from the details and look at the various bits of info that people take into account when thinking about you. Likewise, if you want to understand how others see themselves, start focusing on the details you will use to judge yourself. As Epley says, ‘This strategy will not turn other minds into an open book, but it should, under the right circumstances, make other minds somewhat easier to read’.


The future of mind reading

Many researchers are investigating about mind reading. Now there is even a technology that can read your mind. The last place of privacy was your thoughts, but now there is technology that can read your mind. It’s called FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance). The machine measures neural activity by measuring the change in the blood oxygen level in the brain. If a person is thinking about a particular image the machine can see the pattern. When you think about a concept, particular part of your brain light up. For instance, if you think about a hammer there are some parts of your brain that light up. This means that the concept hammer has similar pattern across people.

Ethical  implications

The use of this technology, also defined BCI (Brain Computer Interaction) pose many ethical implication. For instance, if this technology is used in government interrogation techniques, does the participant need to consent, and what about the accuracy of the results? Also, if the technology is not accessible to everyone, it pose the owner of this technology above the other people who does not have access to this technology.


Mind reading could be the next big thing in human interaction. Why would you use your voice to give instruction to your phone if you can use your brain wave? This mobile prototype can give an idea of how could be interactive with a mobile phone that can read your brain waves.