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Mindreading: An Investigation into How We Learn to Love and Lie Hardcover – April 13, 1998


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"We are primates who are experts in deceit, double-dealing, lying, cheating, conniving, and concealing." So says science writer Sanjida O'Connell, but we needn't take her word for it--she lets the facts speak for themselves. Citing research conducted with monkeys, apes, and both normal and autistic children, she creates a highly accessible introduction to theory of mind, the ability of most humans (and possibly some animals) to conceive of and infer the mental states of others.

Mindreading discusses research in such fascinating and controversial areas as animal communication, artificial intelligence, and education of autistic children. From remarkable displays of grief and deception in chimpanzees to the equally remarkable lack of such qualities in human sufferers of Asperger's syndrome, the facts presented in this book challenge the ways we think about ourselves and others and upset our notions of what it means to be human. Mindreading itself changes from a science fiction cliché into a perfectly ordinary faculty most of us perform unconsciously all day, every day.

Authors who write about subjects of such fundamental importance to us often also touch on the problems of morality, and O'Connell is no exception. Her closing chapter, "The Moral Mind," explores gender differences in moral reasoning and how they may be based on differences in perceptions of others. Amid further speculation about animal and robot morals, she expresses the belief (and hope) that morality arises from theory of mind and that improvement in the way we see others will lead to improvement in the way we treat them. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

The title of this debut by British science journalist O'Connell refers not to clairvoyance, but to the means by which we try to understand what lies behind other people's words and gestures and how we "respond to them." For the author, how we quickly get a fix on people and their motives underpins all human communication, empathy and deception. Beginning with attempts in philosophy and cognitive science to articulate our assumptions about such aspects of human nature, O'Connell quickly extends her scope to include our cousins, the primates; she considers extensive evidence as to whether they share our ability to suss each other out and analyzes traits we have in common in order to shed light on our possible evolutionary makeup. While the book sometimes reads like the Ph.D. thesis on the "Theory of Mind in Chimpanzees" that O'Connell says "formed the backbone" of this effort, she usefully examines differences in how autistic, psychopathic and normal people of various ages read each other, as well as the social behavior of brain-damaged individuals. Anyone interested in our increasingly biologically determined theories of behavior and ethics will benefit from this competent overview of how we think others think.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (April 13, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038548402X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385484022
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #623,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book addresses some basic elements of mindreading (like ascertaining someone's interest in an object from her/his eye direction) but does not substantively address real-world applications (the way that we observe and interpret subtle gestures and vocal intonation to form an idea of other people's thoughts in daily life). Instead, the book includes extensive descriptions of scientific experiments on animals and humans. The author discusses the development of mindreading capabilities in early childhood but does little to link this information to related findings on brain development. The book's focus on mindreading deficiencies in autistic people often seems insensitive and uncompassionate.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The previous 2 reviews, one explicitly so, could lead one to believe the book is about "mindreading" in the woo-woo, supernatural sense. The book and jacket explicity states it is topically about the "Theory of Mind" and thus the aspect of mindreading here is concerned with the human capacity to intuit each others' inner workings, motivations and actions. The roots of any intuitive abilities we may have are often unknown to us and the book explores their social and genetic sources and it is worth investigating if that is your cup of tea. I've posted this as a corrective to the earlier postings and have zilch to do with the author.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Lee tat kwong on April 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The book is interesting, but the book is not in an organized format. and it haven't mention too much about the most important thing - mindreading.
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