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Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World (Bradford Books) Hardcover – August 15, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0262162562 ISBN-10: 0262162563 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Series: Bradford Books
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (August 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262162563
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262162562
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #652,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Designated by Newsweek in 1997 as one of the 100 Americans most likely to shape the century, Pentland (director, Digital Life Consortium, MIT) introduces a fascinating new way to understand how we read our social environment. To gather scientific data, Pentland has devised the "sociometer," an ingenious instrument for measuring the ways in which humans communicate by "honest," or unconscious, signaling. This device allows Pentland to track social networking by measuring four kinds of signals: influence, mimicry, activity, and consistency. He argues that the influence each person has in social interactions, the reflexive copying of gestures, increased levels of activity when mutual interest occurs, and the consistency of emphasis and timing contribute to our unconscious, hardwired paths of communication. Pentland's lucid treatment of complicated psychobiological principles effectively enables lay readers to grasp difficult but significant concepts. Moreover, his appendixes provide full descriptions of the relevant research methodology. Similar in scope to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Pentland's book is better-suited and recommended for university collections.—Lynne F. Maxwell, Villanova Univ. Sch. of Law Lib., PA
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Review

"A technology poised to change the world." Technology Review



"A technology poised to change the world."-- Technology Review



"A new understanding of organizational effectiveness." -- Strategy+Business



"A new understanding of organizational effectiveness." Strategy+Business



"Pentland's lucid treatment of complicated psychobiological principles effectively enables lay readers to grasp difficult but significant concepts... Similar in scope to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Pentland's book is better-suited and recommended for university collections." Library Journal



"Sandy Pentland, always ahead of everyone, has captured in this snappy and well written book, the deep signals we use to communicate and how they shape and reveal our social behavior. A must read." -- Michael S. Gazzaniga , Director, Sage Center for the Study of Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara


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Customer Reviews

Very interesting book.
Reeve-wilson Law Office
One of the more interesting methods of communication is for people to mimic each others body language.
Peter McCluskey
Nice reading for those who want to get more details without read academic papers.
Rafael

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Lori A. Williams on February 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I was very excited to read this book. I had heard about the research from NPR and wanted to know the details. I was trained as a scientist and I love seeing how other scientists communicate their ideas to the public.

I was hoping this book would answer questions I had after hearing the NPR piece. How did the researchers get the idea to look at nonverbal signals in the first place? Which signals tend to be most predictive? Are there nonverbal signals that I give out that I might want to change depending on context?

After reading this book, including the appendices, I'm sad to say I still don't have answers at a level of detail that is satisfying to me. I don't really have ideas on what I could do differently, nor do I have enough info to convince another scientist (read - my husband) that the research is solid. The book was long on hypothesizing about applications of the work, but short on the science. While the authors gave many details about their statistical methods, I wanted more information about how their sociometers worked, what the data looked like that came out of the devices, how they processed that data and what kind of decisions they had to make in data collection and processing.

I may have been a little harsh in judging Honest Signals. I read it immediately after reading Gary Klein's Sources of Power, which is an examplar of popular science writing for the public (If you have any interest in human decision-making, I highly recommend it.). But all in all, the research this book is built on is fascinating, but the book left me disappointed.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Science Fiction and Marketing on January 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Idiots and gossip represent the biggest danger to idea markets and networked intelligence says MIT Media Lab Professor Alex Pentland in his findings, "Honest Signals." Of particular note is that in large groups behavioral dynamics can cause for less than stellar results via bad ideas introduced (idiots) and shared sources that repeat the same information over and over again (gossip). Anyone who has questioned the 2.0 echo chamber or wisdom of crowds can identify with these issues, yet Pentland demonstrates networked intelligence is superior to the individuals.

Honest Signals reveals findings from a new technology called the Sociometer that measure human behavior, including overwhelming proof that humans do not make rational, logical decisions, instead opting for a base networked form of primal signaling amongst ourselves. This empirical evidence proves collaborative use of body language and other signals are more important in communications and decision making than theories of messaging and big man management. Further the findings bulwark the collaborative trends we are seeing in the social web, which brings us back to idiots and gossip.

Anyone who has participated in Twitter or a highly engaged wiki environment can see this networked intelligence at work. And often the wisdom of the crowd can go astray in a bit of a frenzy or simply put, bad group-think. So the question becomes how to improve idea markets for better collaboration, performance and use, an activity the Media Lab, Intel and Hewlett-Packard are all actively trying to solve.

The idiot factor -- introduction of bad ideas -- can easily be weeded out by performance. Someone who cannot deliver good intellectual capital simply loses credibility (idiot image by Geoff Greene).
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Waber on September 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book goes through the most recent (about last 5 years) research of Prof. Pentland's group in the MIT Media Lab. It's a quick but extremely engaging read, and in contrast to other pop science books like Freakanomics and Predictably Irrational (both of which are interesting reads), Honest Signals has the scientific details of the experiments that it talks about, in the form of a thorough 50-page appendix. For anyone interested in how sensing technology will change business and the sciences or who's interested in learning how people actually interact with each other, this is a must read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Yogendra on January 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book belongs - very, very broadly - in the same space as Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational and to some extent, from an application point of view, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudges. The common thread that binds them is an exposition of what lies behind human decisions and how those decisions can be better understood and possibly influenced.

The core thesis of Honest Signals, by MIT Professor Alex Pentland, is that much human communication and decision making is about signals. Signals such as clothes and cars can be deliberate and planned, or influenced by emotion or culture. But not the unconscious or uncontrollable biologically based "honest signalling" which has evolved from ancient primate signalling mechanisms. The stories quoted are from the data collected by the author and his team using a device called a "sociometer" which is described in some detail in Appendix A in the book.

In the first four chapters, Professor Pentland describes: main kinds of social signals; how they can be combined for signalling social roles; how an understanding of the signals and social roles can help read people better; and how group dynamics works and evolves. In the following three chapters, he focuses on how networks, organisations and societies could be explained or could use the proposed thesis.

Books based on science and research are now commonly organised such that a good half of the book comprises explanatory or technical appendices and a bibliography. This book is no exception. The 98 pages of main text, including an epilogue that makes an important point that much current technology is socially ignorant, are followed by 52 pages of appendices rich in research context, 13 pages of notes to appendices, and 14 pages of bibliography.
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