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Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want [Kindle Edition]

Nicholas Epley
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)

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Book Description

You are a mind reader, born with an extraordinary ability to understand what others think, feel, believe, want, and know. It’s a sixth sense you use every day, in every personal and professional relationship you have. At its best, this ability allows you to achieve the most important goal in almost any life: connecting, deeply and intimately and honestly, to other human beings. At its worst, it is a source of misunderstanding and unnecessary conflict, leading to damaged relationships and broken dreams.

How good are you at knowing the minds of others? How well can you guess what others think of you, know who really likes you, or tell when someone is lying? How well do you really understand the minds of those closest to you, from your spouse to your kids to your best friends? Do you really know what your coworkers, employees, competitors, or clients want?

In this illuminating exploration of one of the great mysteries of the human mind, University of Chicago psychologist Nicholas Epley introduces us to what scientists have learned about our ability to understand the most complicated puzzle on the planet—other people—and the surprising mistakes we so routinely make. Why are we sometimes blind to the minds of others, treating them like objects or animals? Why do we sometimes talk to our cars, or the stars, as if there is a mind that can hear us? Why do we so routinely believe that others think, feel, and want what we do when, in fact, they do not? And why do we believe we understand our spouses, family, and friends so much better than we actually do? Mindwise will not turn other people into open books, but it will give you the wisdom to revolutionize how you think about them—and yourself. 

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Despite its brand-name-sounding title (used only in the four-page afterword), Epley hasn’t created a slick, marketable method. And this book isn’t pop psychology but popularly written, genuine behavioral psychology, based on the findings of carefully constructed experiments. Its subject is the so-called sixth sense, by which humans descry what others feel, think, and know, and which we variously call intuition, sympathy, and mind reading. The experiments Epley describes verify its reality and, more important, that it isn’t nearly as reliable as we assume; indeed, it’s only modestly better than chance at rightly ascertaining particulars (e.g., opinions, preferences, details), even those of spouses, family members, and bosom friends. A number of attitudes get in the way of accurate mind reading, including egocentrism, anthropomorphism, and dehumanization. Proceeding from research findings, Epley analyzes those impediments before turning to the means for improving the sixth sense, which turns out to be asking questions of those we are trying to “read.” Furthermore, Epley enjoins, the right kind of questions will ask what rather than why. Unexciting? Useful! --Ray Olson


Praise for Nicholas Epley's Mindwise

“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 in this clever psychology primer....Epley ably explores many entertaining and entirely convincing mistakes, so readers will have a thoroughly satisfying experience.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This book isn’t pop psychology but popularly written, genuine behavioral psychology, based on the findings of carefully constructed experiments. Its subject is the so-called sixth sense, by which humans descry what others feel, think, and know, and which we variously call intuition, sympathy, and mind reading. The experiments Epley describes verify its reality and, more important, that it isn’t nearly as reliable as we assume; indeed, it’s only modestly better than chance at rightly ascertaining particulars (e.g., opinions, preferences, details), even those of spouses, family members, and bosom friends….Useful!—Booklist

“'Mindwise' is good reading for negotiators, the makers of public policy, heck, for anyone who interacts with other people, and that should be all of us. Mr. Epley is a genial, informative host in this tour of some of the most interesting findings in the social psychology of understanding one another, which he calls "mind-reading." His examples are drawn from the headlines as well as the peer-reviewed literature, and he keeps things going at a quick pace without dumbing-down the science.” David J. Levitin, The Wall Street Journal

“Psychologist Nicholas Epley’s Mind-wise provides a guide to understanding the minds of others. His engrossing book outlines the strategies that we use: projecting from our own minds, using stereotypes, and inferring from others’ actions.…Epley is a lucid and magnetic host, and his crammed with evidence-based research.” Leyla Sanai, The Independent

“Nuanced, authoritative and accessible.” —Nature

Since Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point and Freakonomics there has been a vast output of books on behavioural science. Many have been quite poor—formulaic books supporting obvious conclusions at unnecessary length. Mindwise stands out from the crowd. It is surprising, intelligent, and convincing. It continues to make worthwhile points in every chapter (after about chapter two most books of this kind are repeating themselves) and the author tells you things you don't know without straining for effect. You emerge from reading it understanding both yourself and others better, which is not a bad dividend from reading fewer than 200 pages.” Daniel Finkelstein, The Times

“What to expect of a book with such a title? In this neuroscience-obsessed age, the best guess would be an enthusiastic account, illuminated with dramatic, if misleading, colour images of the brain regions that light up when people placed inside an MRI scanner are asked to think about their social relations. Or, by contrast, philosophical reflections on free will, the intentional stance and theories of mind. Refreshingly, however, Mindwise is free of such neuro- or philosophical ruminations; it takes for granted that we and our fellow humans have minds, and can exercise free will. Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioural science at the Chicago Booth business school, by and large takes the internal workings of our brains for granted, and focuses instead on the common – and sometimes uncommon – sense of how we understand our own thoughts and actions, and, above all, read the thoughts and intentions of others.” Steven Rose, The Guardian

“This is a fascinating exploration of what scientists have learned about our ability to understand the most complicated puzzle on the planet—other people—and the surprising mistakes we so routinely make” —

“Immensely readable….not only clear but enjoyable as well….a fascinating look at how people understand one another, the obstacles to that understanding, and the ways in which they can hone their natural mind-reading ability. Though it may not be the kind of mind-reading found in science fiction, Mindwise gives readers the tools to get one step closer to better grasping the minds around them.” —Amanda Wicks, Washington Independent Review of Books
“Epley’s account suggests that unless you genuinely value the perspective of others, and not just those that conform to your own, you are not going to understand them. Really effective smart thinking is not, therefore, just a means to an end: it has to be rooted in what we see as ends in themselves, the values by which we live.” —Julian Baggini, Financial Times

“One of the smartest and most entertaining books I have read in years.  At a time when there are dozens of popular social science books to choose from, Epley's masterpiece stands out as the cream of the crop.” —Steven D. Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics
Mindwise is a brilliant and beautiful exploration of the mystery of other minds—and how we fail to solve it. Insightful and important, Mindwise is one of the best books of this or any other decade.” —Daniel Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness 
“What is it like to be someone else? How can we get into other people’s heads? These questions have challenged the greatest thinkers in Western philosophy, and they obsess every one of us as we try to deal with our family, lovers, friends, enemies, colleagues, and allies. In Mindwise, the distinguished social psychologist Nicholas Epley offers a lively and fascinating tour of the latest science on how we figure out (and all too often fail to figure out) what everyone else is thinking.”
—Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought

“‘Know thyself,’ commanded the Oracle at Delphi. Mindwise shows us why that’s so hard to do, yet so vital as the starting point for understanding others. Epley writes with scientific authority, grace, and deep humanity. You’ll come away from this book understanding the African concept of Ubuntu: A person is a person through other people.”
—Jonathan Haidt, NYU Stern School of Business, author of The Righteous Mind

“Why are we often so terribly bad at figuring out what other people are thinking? Nicholas Epley is one of the smartest and most creative social psychologists alive, and in his extraordinary new book, he explores the powers and the limits of our capacity for ‘mindreading.’ Epley is a clear and engaging writer, and Mindwise is replete with fascinating insights into human nature.”
—Paul Bloom, Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology, Yale University, author of Just Babies

“Too much of life's misery comes from misunderstanding what others are thinking, and from assuming that those we love must know what is (obviously!) on our mind. Mindwise is a highly enjoyable and informative book by one of psychology's rising stars that will make you spend less time in pointless arguments and more time in rewarding relationships. Gaining some wisdom about the minds of others will be painless and priceless.”
—Richard H. Thaler, Ralph and Dorothy Keller Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and Behavioral Science, Booth School of Business, University of Chicago

“Epley delivers the good news that we all have a sixth sense, an ability to read minds. The bad news is that we are not very good at it…Epley draws on a wealth of empirical social psychological research to help make sense of how humans understand and misunderstand one another.”—Science (2014 Summer Reading Selection)

Product Details

  • File Size: 6627 KB
  • Print Length: 273 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307595919
  • Publisher: Knopf (February 11, 2014)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,072 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Why do we so often fail - in spite of our best efforts - to grasp the minds of those we meet? Do we truly know what our spouse thinks about common situations? Can we even vaguely imagine what it feels like to walk in another person's shoes?

According to Nicholas Epley, the answer is often a resounding "No". But he counters this discouraging conclusion with many suggestions, often supported with lively examples, for gaining new insights about what might work better. Reading this well-researched book offers readers the opportunity to foster understanding and closeness, not only with casual acquaintances, but those we think we know - spouses, children, close friends.

I think it is important to note that the book isn't filled with step-by-step directions or techniques for "reading" people's minds. But gaining a new perspective about how others think can be invaluable. A changed outlook may automatically lead to new and better ways of understanding others.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book for me focused on couples, including those married for many years. Most had the illusion that they could easily predict how their spouse would react or feel in a common situation. But when put to the test, Epley proves that they were often way off the mark.

Many people also believe that they can size up another person. So they listen to conversations and form conclusions about what others feel and believe. Or they try to grasp another person's lifestyle and views, yet are baffled when this doesn't foster any real communication.

To improve understanding, Epley suggests we examine our conclusions about other people's thoughts and beliefs. Real examples underline the importance of positive relationships. Slip-ups at work can threaten job security.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
With "Mindwise," Author, Financial Times' "professor to watch," and University of Chicago Booth School of Business' professor of psychology, Nicolas Epley, PhD., brings our "sixth sense" of understanding others out of the shadows into the light of scientific inspection. This "sixth sense," an extraordinary ability to understand what others think, feel, and believe, allows us to connect with others deeply, intimately, and honestly. Unfortunately, this ability can also be the greatest source of misunderstanding, leading to damaged relationships, bitter fights, and even war.

"Mindwise" brings your brain's greatest ability out of the shadows and into the light, showing how, and how well we reason about our thoughts, motives, attitudes, beliefs, and emotions of others. Epley's insights, gained over two decades of scientific inspection, will serve as a guide to show how predictable malfunctions (dehumanization, egocentricity, stereotypes, and misleading information from behaviors) keep us from truly understanding the minds of others and create personal difficulties. With this knowledge as the backdrop, he sets out to show us how our ability to think about the minds of others can improve so we can be wiser in our personal and professional relationships, improving our lives and the lives of those we come into contact with.

"Mindwise" is organized into four parts - (Mis) Reading Minds, Does It Have a Mind?, What State Is Another Mind In?, and "Through the Eyes of Others." Some takeaways include:

* Reading minds is a sense we use with great overconfidence. We are likely to understand much less about the minds of family members and friends, neighbors, coworkers, and competitors than we guess.
* We cannot read anyone's mind perfectly.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book WANTS you to better understand the human mind! February 22, 2014
Mindwise is a story composed of stories. Epley masterfully weaves together volumes of learning in social psychology into an easy-to-follow, fun-to-read text that you won't want to put down.

Do you really know yourself? Do you know your partner? If you do, do you know WHY they are the way they are? You probably feel you can answer in the affirmative. But just as you probably don't know why I'm writing this review, you'll find compelling evidence that perhaps you won't even know why you'll be buying this book. But trust me, you should buy the book.

The author presents a litany of hard science - but doesn't drone on about it. He tells the reader what they need to know and puts it in context. And, not to worry, this is no textbook. You'll be consistently rewarded with fascinating stories, new paradigms, and even stories about you. I perhaps most enjoyed the witty, unexpected one-liners. To paraphrase: For the sake of your social life, try not to injure this area of your brain. I chuckled out loud several times!

Epley does not place himself above those of us getting up to speed. He becomes an approachable actor in his own work - self-deprecating, pointing out his own flaws in perception in relate-able examples from everyday life and generally having fun with an important topic.

On the serious side, this book is about humanity. A thoughtful individual will take away a greater resolve to treat others more humanely, to show a sincere interest, to seek understanding before judgement, to offer a modicum of empathy for others.

I found the book humbling, inspirational, funny, and memorable.

Now get yourself a copy, because you should have one.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent insight into human behavior.
Published 6 days ago by Gabe Burke
5.0 out of 5 stars Magic, based on the scientific research!
I took a class by Nicholas Epley and absolutely loved it! This book is the summary of the course material, so you can save several thousands of dollars by buying it :) The book... Read more
Published 19 days ago by Tanya G
2.0 out of 5 stars not worthwhile
The book promises a good deal more than it delivers. Succinctly: be nice, be honest, be candid, and everything will be better. Read more
Published 24 days ago by PAA
5.0 out of 5 stars Scientific study of Mindreading
This is an exciting book on a new field in social psychology, mindreading. The results are often surprising, allways interesting.
Published 1 month ago by antti s. mattila
4.0 out of 5 stars How We Understand What People Think of My Pants
Did my mind actually become wiser like this book promised me (actually no promise was offered)? Hmmm... maybe a little? Read more
Published 1 month ago by BraMaster
5.0 out of 5 stars Great! Great! Great!
Absolutely fabulous, just as his classes at UChicago were when I attended. Easy to read, engaging, full of clear examples that illustrate just what the title says: How we... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Alejandra
2.0 out of 5 stars The author is clearly liberal and most of his examples show those who...
Unsure of how accurate this book is. The author is clearly liberal and most of his examples show those who are conservative in a bad light. Read more
Published 3 months ago by mdell
4.0 out of 5 stars Seeing Minds When They Aren't There, Not Seeing Them When They Are...
I think if we were asked whether there is a limit to how well we can understand others, most of us would answer with a non-hesitant "sure. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Kevin Currie-Knight
5.0 out of 5 stars Old Theme - Meaningful Analyses and Perspectives
Amazon's review options are frighteningly preclusive. This is a great book, but that's not what I MUST comment on. I have Amazon Prime. Read more
Published 4 months ago by unassuming
5.0 out of 5 stars The most useful book I have ever read
This is the first book review I have written Amazon. I was inspired to write this review because Mindwise may be the most useful book I have ever read. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Dao Bernardi-Boyle
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More About the Author

Nicholas Epley is the John T. Keller Professor of Behavior Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He received a bachelor's degree in psychology and philosophy in 1996 from Saint Olaf College. In 2001, he graduated from Cornell University with a PhD in psychology and then began his career as an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He joined the Chicago Booth faculty in 2004.

Epley conducts research on mind reading--not the spooky or psychic versions but rather the everyday version in which we routinely make inferences about what others think, believe, feel, or want. People routinely misunderstand each other without knowing it. Epley's research pinpoints the chronic mistakes we all make, and tests how all of us might learn how to understand each other better.

His research has appeared in more than two dozen journals, including the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, Psychological Review, and the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. His research also has been featured by the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Wired, and National Public Radio, among many others, has been funded by the National Science Foundation, and has earned the 2008 Theoretical Innovation Award from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. He was named a "professor to watch" by the Financial Times, and was awarded the 2011 Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology from the American Psychological Association. In 2014, Epley was named as one of the "World's Best 40 under 40 Business School Professors" by Poets and Quants, and identified as one of 8 Young Business School Professors on the Rise by CNN.

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