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New book explores science of 'sixth sense'


"Does he really love me?" "What motivates my employees?" "Is she lying to me?"

Countless times every day, we all act as "mind readers" — our daily lives are guided by our inferences about what others think, feel, want and believe. We’ve become so practiced at reading the minds of our family members, friends, colleagues, enemies and allies that we hardly recognize when we're doing it. It operates almost like a sixth sense. But as members of the most social species on the planet, truly understanding the minds of others is essential for social success and survival.

"Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want" (Knopf, 2014), a new book by Nicholas Epley, a psychologist and professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, explores humans' "mindreading" abilities and examines how and why our judgments about others' minds are sometimes right, but often wrong, yet rarely doubted.

In this video, Epley discusses some of the research used as the basis for "Mindwise."

Epley's book examines the limitations of our ability to "read" others and dispels myths based on misconceptions like "our minds are revealed through our actions," "the way to understand others is to honestly put yourself in another person's shoes," and the common sense that body language accurately reveals what a person is feeling or thinking.

"Assuming a direct relationship between minds and actions oversimplifies the minds of others in a way that leads to severe misunderstandings," Epley says. "Actions can speak loudly but our intuitions also mistakenly suggest that they speak simply. Correcting this mistake could do more to improve humanity than almost any other."

"Our ability to understand the mind of others is one of our greatest skills, but it doesn't work as well as we think it does, and we misunderstand people far more often than we realize," Epley says. "Recognizing our own limitations is the most important step to understanding each other better, and recognizing that your own impressions could be wrong leads you to live your life differently in almost every aspect of it."

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Media advisory: Dr. Epley is available for comment and can be reached at 773.834.1266 or epley@chicagobooth.edu.