- Series: The MIT Press
- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press (September 24, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262515121
- ISBN-13: 978-0262515122
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 30 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #259,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World (The MIT Press) Paperback – September 24, 2010
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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
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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 (Reviews)
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 (Endorsement)
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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. All in all it took about an hour and half to read the book.
One of the limitations of the book is due to the compact treatment. The description of the theoretical premise pitched in the book is interesting enough but the stories felt incomplete, half-told. Quite reminiscent of how an academic thesis includes a section that describes future research possibilities; that section really is an admission of the limitations of the thesis, whether imposed by time or scope definition or something else. The author of a book for popular consumption really doesn't face these limitations hence the dissatisfying experience. There is also not enough time spent on what in real life could be done with a sociometer or the findings of Professor Pentland's research with it.
Usefulness note: The book successfully articulates the concept of primate signalling and provides a quasi-framework that can be put to use in some situations. For instance, it may be handy in several situations including watching politicians and businessmen, and as the author points out, in social and work situations such as negotiation and dating. However if someone then tries too hard to "implement" the framework, it is hardly "honest" signalling and it can all potentially backfire. Recommended for a quick read on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Even though the book has its problems (repeating something may be a good practice in some contexts but I believe this time it is overused). I was very surprised that the book did not include a single reference to Gerd Gigerenzer and his 'Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious' 
Whatever can be said about this book, I think it is worth its value even for introducing the concept of 'sociometer' ;-)