Sunday, July 5, 2020

Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want [Book Summary]


Executive Summary:

Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want is a psychological book written by Nicholas Epley on how to understand what others are thinking. He describes this “mind-reading” ability as everyone’s “sixth sense”. Epley speaks about the wonders of the human mind and how to correctly understand it. Epley elaborates on how the mind’s most important skill is the ability to think about another’s mind to try to gain a better understanding of them. Our sixth sense is constantly being used just as much as our other senses.

Mindwise book cover
Mindwise Book Cover
Epley uses many examples of experiments and research that he and others have gathered throughout this book. He does an amazing job of relaying the information into simple, everyday terms for his readers to understand.

Trying to understand what others think, believe, feel, and want can be challenging at times. Epley discusses the mistakes we make while trying to understand other’s minds and what we can do to mend those mistakes. These mistakes come from misunderstanding people, dehumanization, poor perspectives, and much more that he develops in detail throughout the book. Epley teaches us how to avoid these mistakes.

We find out through reading this book that even our closest friends and spouses do not really know as much about us as they think they do. We also come to find out that we do not even know ourselves as much as we would like to think we do. As humans, we can explain what we feel in great depth; however, it is quite hard for us to describe why we feel what we do.

Epley thoroughly talks about perception and how it is used in the human brain. People tend to be egocentric in their view of the world, thinking because someone’s view is different, that it is less important or intelligent. He discusses how we tend to see people as less than humans when their thoughts are viewed as less important.

Overall, there are many applicable tools to take away from this book. These tools can help people to achieve happiness throughout normal everyday routines. Ultimately, to understand others, we must engage and interact with them.

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from Mindwise:  

1. People misunderstand people. This is especially important for managers and leaders to understand. I would say many managers have trouble with overconfidence in understanding other’s minds. Many bases their entire knowledge of someone from their first impression, which is understandable; however, this can be extremely wrong. “Accurate or not, our first impressions are formed quickly and easily, and are therefore held with considerable confidence…Your sixth sense works quickly and is not prone to second-guessing.” (Epley, p. 3-4)

2. Do not dehumanize workers. Managers should not dehumanize employees. Dehumanization is ultimately failing to recognize the full human mind of another person, especially when that person is different from ourselves. Managers have to keep in mind that your employees are humans also and not just workers. For example, the book talks about when NFL team owners wanted to extend the season from 16 games to 18 games a season. One of the most “fearsome” players in the NFL said that the owners overlooked the experience of the athletes and were only thinking of them as moneymakers. Ray Lewis responded, “[I know] the things that you have to go through just to keep your body [functioning]. We’re not automobiles. We’re not machines. We’re humans” (Epley, p. 41). I think this concept can be translated into any business.

3. Understand people’s motivations. Managers must understand what motivates people in their jobs. What do employees really want? There are two kinds of incentives leaders can apply: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic incentives are any inherent to the job itself like the satisfaction of accomplishing something worthwhile, learning new things, developing skills, or just feeling proud about your work.” On the other hand, extrinsic incentives are outcomes that are independent of the job like “getting paid, earning fringe benefits, getting a bonus, or having job security” (Epley, p. 54). Every employee is different, and managers must discern which incentive motivates each employee.

4. Managers will have more success in their workplace when they “recognize their employees as a fully mindful human being who care about doing a good job instead of seeing them as lesser minds who care only about getting a paycheck.” The book talks about the problem with managers at the General Motors plant. The managers believe the workers were “no-mind idiots” there just for the paycheck. After GM partnered with Toyota, the Toyota managers believed that the employees had fully human minds. They educated the employees properly and worked in teams rather than single units as they were under GM’s management. In one year, the plant had nearly perfect ratings. The secret to this success was simple: “Treat both white- and blue-collar workers with respect, encourage them, to think independently, allow them to make decisions, and make them feel connected to an important effort” (Epley, p. 115).

5. Be social. They must be engaged with other minds for the business’ sake as well as their own health’s sake. When a person is disengaged from another’s mind, they “neglect a chief source of human happiness: engaging relationally with other people.” Managers must not just be sitting in their office, isolated from everyone. They must also be on the floor, engaging with employees and customers, making sure everything is going as planned. Isolation can be unpleasant and bad for your health. “Social isolation is a greater risk factor for cardiac arrest and death than even cigarette smoking.” Managers should try to connect with employees and customers (Epley, p. 76).

6. Lower the ego. Managers must not overestimate the extent to which others see, think, and feel the same way they do. This mainly happens because of egocentrism. As a manager, you can not expect everyone to know what you know, act like you act, and think as you think. A manager, especially, has to be able to communicate at the employee’s level, instead of assuming that the employees are able to read their mind. Managers should “…recognize that others may view the world differently”, which isn’t a negative thing (Epley, p.86). Managers have to get over themselves and adequately adopt another’s point of view sometimes.

7. Step back and look at the bigger picture. Looking through the lens of expertise is like looking through a microscope. You can notice tiny details that a beginner might not see. Nevertheless, even though it sharpens your focus and attention, you can miss the bigger picture. For example, Clorox’s production of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing is discussed in the book. Clorox spent ten years trying to perfect it so it can be brought into the market. They were having trouble making it shelf-stable but still have the great taste of the original recipe. They eventually gave up and brought the best they had to be taste-tested. To their astonishment, the people loved it. The food experts “lost their ability to taste like a novice because they knew the taste of the original.” Managers should not only be concerned about the tiny details but see the bigger picture (Epley, p. 104).

8. Communicate verbally. Emails and texts are great ways to communicate. They have helped tremendously in the workforce and are continuing to make a difference. They are incredible text-based mediums used for communication. Although, as powerful as they are, one can not decipher the context of how and what is being said. One can not tell the tone of voice or non-verbals being used, such as sarcasm in email or text. This can lead to trouble in the workspace when not utilized correctly. When possible, managers should try to communicate verbally to employees to help grow the relationship with the employees.

9. Avoid stereotypes. A stereotype is a “set of beliefs about the personal characteristics of a group” (Epley, p.126). If you are correctly looking through another’s lens, you do not need to stereotype. You are able to see their perspective on things without putting them in a box. For example, women are said to be more emotional than men. This is a common stereotype. When put to the test in an experiment, both men and women watched emotional, evocative scenes, and on average, they both had the same emotional reactions with the same intensity. Women are not more emotional than men, and they are just more expressive. Just because women express more emotion, it does not mean they feel more emotion. “There is more to the world than meets your eyes” (Epley, p.136).

10. Encourage your team. Words and stereotypes can be self-fulling. People are more likely to succeed when they are positively poured into and encouraged. If a manager invests poorly into his workers, the results are going to be poor. Workers and employees need that positivity. For example, Epley mentions how students were required to complete a cover sheet for the SAT exam. They were required to fill in demographic information such as age, grade, and college major. In addition, they had to indicate their race. The twist was that only half of the students had to indicate their race on the sheet. The results were profound. “The African American students did significantly worse when they listed their race on the first page than when they did not.” Do not let your employees believe lies of society, but speak life and encouragement to them (Epley, p. 137).

Full Summary of Mindwise:

Mindwise is a book written by Nicholas Epley that discusses the understanding of other’s minds. Throughout the book, Epley lists scenarios and explanations as to why we do the things we do when trying to understand one another. He describes the ability to read one’s mind as someone’s sixth sense. Like other senses, we do not realize when we are using them, but are using them every second. The same goes for one’s sixth sense. It is constantly being used from when we wake up to when we are lying in bed thinking about your day. Epley says, “Our daily lives are guided by inferences about what others think, believe, feel, and want. This is your real sixth sense at work.” (Preface xii). Epley is a psychologist that has been doing scientific research on this subject for the past two decades. Correctly understanding other people is one of the most useful abilities that we can do as humans.

In Epley’s first chapter, he discusses how we misread minds. We tend to think we understand the minds of others and know what they are thinking. This is a common mistake we make every day, but there are ways to fix this misconception. As humans, we are overconfident when inferring from first impressions. We are inclined to think from that quick seven seconds of meeting someone, and we know all about them. This is understandable. First impressions are the quickest and easiest way to try to understand someone. This is why we hold first impressions with significant confidence. The problem with this is that our first impressions are not always accurate.

Since our natural tendency is to formulate impressions of others prematurely, just as important, we want to know what others are thinking of us. This is something that almost everyone can relate to: wanting to know what others think about you. When holding an experiment on a sample of Americans, Epley asked the subjects to imagine that there was a device that could tell you exactly what others are feeling and thinking. Then, they asked the subjects on whom they would want to use this device. To Epley’s surprise, the subjects were not curious about the minds of powerful leaders, rich people, or celebrities. The majority wanted to use the device on the people that were closest to them. Why would they want to use a remarkable device like this one on their close friend or spouse? They wanted to see what their closest friends thought about them.

We all want to know what others think about us at some level. Couples that have been married for years still want to truly know what their spouse is thinking, even if they think they know everything about each other. Epley uses an example of an experiment he used on couples similar to The Newlywed Game. In this experiment, the couples are sat in separate rooms, and one is asked to answer questions about themselves. The other partner is predicting our their spouse is answering the questions and reporting their confidence in being correct or not. The results were that the couples predicted each other a little better than chance alone. Each person was extremely overconfident on what they believed they knew. What was even more fascinating was that the longer that these couples were together, the more they thought they knew about their spouse. This proved to be inaccurate. The “more time together did not make the couples any more accurate; it just gave them the illusion that they were more accurate”, Epley states (p. 11). Epley’s goal is to try to allow his readers to decrease their illusion of insight into other’s minds by understanding and reducing one’s confidence in what they know.

Epley discusses what we can and cannot know about our own minds. Epley discusses how ego theorists make the mistake of thinking that the brain can be compared to an iceberg, where about nine-tenths of the iceberg is immersed underwater and can only be seen from above. This is actually called the iceberg metaphor. This metaphor is what ego-theorists use as their base for saying that people only use ten percent of their brains. This myth states that we have a great amount of untapped potential in our minds and can achieve extraordinary things if we could trigger these features. This was proven to be false, stating that we use these unconscious features every second of our daily lives. Epley states, “Consciousness is involved in only a small sliver of what you do from one moment to the next…that doesn’t mean that the rest of your brain is unused potential” (p. 20). Instead of comparing the human mind to an iceberg, Epley suggests that the mind is more like a house. “You can know its finished form quite accurately, but its construction is hidden from view” (Epley, p.20). A description of what a house looks like can go into great detail, but why a house looks like has to be guessed. We can ask what people are thinking and get an exact answer. If we ask them why they think that, it “invokes nothing but theoretical guesswork” (Epley, p.30).

In one experiment, Epley studied, participants were sat down and given two pictures of different people. The participants were told to choose the photo of the person that was more attractive to them. After the participant chose the picture of the more attractive person, the experimenter slid the photos facedown to the participant and asked why they found that person more attractive. There was a slight “trick” that the researchers implemented. Some participants were passed a picture of the photo that they actually chose, but the other participants were passed a photo of the person they chose to be less attractive. The results were surprising. First, only 27 percent of the participants noticed that they were slipped the wrong picture. Second, the participants that were given the wrong photo confidently explained why they found that person more attractive compellingly. They did not notice the switching of the photos and made a convincingly great explanation for a choice they did not make. Epley states, “The only difference in the way we make sense of our own minds versus other people’s minds is that we know we’re guessing about the minds of others” (p. 32). We fail to recognize when we are actually guessing about the knowledge we have of our own, and it seems to be a great illusion.  

These past two chapters have mainly discussed how our sixth sense can make many mistakes. We have to be open to the fact that we might be wrong in our assumptions, more often than we think. Naive realism is “the intuitive sense that we see the world our there as it actually is, rather than as it appears from our own perspective”. This can be a problem when you meet someone who sees the world differently than you. For example, let us say that tell you an apple is blue. Because of naive realism, you would think that they need to visit the eye doctor, instead of thinking that you could be wrong (p. 33). A student of Epley describes a great outlook on one’s own mistakes. He said, “One plus to learning that one probably isn’t as great as they thought they were is also learning that others probably aren’t as wrong as I thought they were, too.” We, as humans, must gain humility in our own thinking.

The next chapter examines how we dehumanize. The chapter begins with a quote from George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright, and co-founder of a school of economics. He says, “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That is the essence of inhumanity.” Shaw is saying that it is ultimately better to hate a person than to be unconcerned about them. This is a profound statement. Dehumanizing is defined as failing to recognize the full human mind of another person. Humans want to feel accepted and cared about. We can achieve this by not being distant and disconnected from people. “Distance makes mindless”. This is a section of chapter three that explains why distance keeps our ability to read other’s minds disengaged. When we are truly engaged with someone, you are able to feel what they feel. For example, Epley went camping with his sons. The sons were whittling wood when the oldest cut himself with the knife. In that instant, Epley could feel the pain that the son was feeling and equivalently worried at the same time. Their minds united at that moment. In order to merge with another’s mind, you must be sharing attention, focusing on the same thing with your eyes. After that happens, your faces and bodies start to harmonize. Once the eyes and bodies are united, the minds begin to join also. This is one way your sixth sense uses your physical senses. Epley uses examples such as when seeing a pained expression on a friend’s face, your face may also become unpleasant, making you feel a brief pain yourself. If you smile, you actually will feel happier. Furrowing your brow can cause you to actually think harder. These are all examples Epley uses to show what happens when we connect to people and merge our minds.

Dehumanization, however, can lead us to believe that others are less than us because they are different. Different minds are not lesser minds. When we engage relationally with people with different views, we can achieve the main source of human happiness. Having positive relationships is the only ingredient for attaining happiness. Research had shown that “people had a more positive experience when they connected with their neighbor regardless of whether they ended to be outgoing or shy, open or reserved” (p. 58). Engaging with others is one of the mind’s significant abilities and will provide happiness. To ultimately utilize the ability of our minds, we must be engaged. When the distance takes place, we tend to view others as lesser minds, which translates to lesser humans.

Just as much as humans dehumanize, we also anthropomorphize. Anthropomorphism is giving a mind to a mindless being. It is the complete opposite of dehumanization. Epley uses examples where people talk to cars as if they have brains, or how musicians name their guitars and treat them like humans. Just because something has eyes, movement, and other characteristics of humans, does not mean they are human. These characteristics are called perceptual cues, and they explain why we recognize minds in objects and animals. Disney anthropomorphizes their characters all the time, which is why people cry over characters in movies, such as The Lion King. Another great example is that of an alarm clock called Clocky. Clocky had humanlike features and had wheels allowing him to run away if the snooze button was hit too many times, forcing you to get out of bed to turn it off. When people were asked to evaluate Clocky, some were told that you could program Clocky to run away when the snooze button is hit, or you can program Clocky to jump on top of you when the snooze button is hit. Others were told that when you hit the snooze button on Clocky, it either runs away from you, or it jumps on you. The researches then asked the participants to rate Clocky on having a “mind of its own”, “free will”, and able to “experience emotions”. The participants said they agreed that “unpredictable Clocky” was more mindful than the “predictable Clocky”. Epley concluded that “unpredictable objects get a mind because a mind makes sense of action. When something needs to be explained, mind reading is engaged” (p. 73). 

The rest of the book talks about three strategies that people use when trying to understand the mind of another. “We project from our own mind, use stereotypes, and infer a mind from a person’s actions” (Epley 83). We first need to get over ourselves. There is a great quote from David Foster Wallace that says, “You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.” The world is not revolving around you, and you are not the center of attention. There will always be others that view the world differently than you and have to take on that person’s point of view when conversing with another person. Each person has a unique perspective in this world, and trying to adopt that can be helpful. The problem with trying to take someone else’s perspective is that we can not truly ever see through their eyes. Even though we may put ourselves in their position, we tend to think about how we, personally, would handle situations and view life. This is what Epley calls the “neck problem”. Epley states, “You are well aware of your own emotions and less aware of others’ emotions. That doesn’t make you more emotional than others; it makes your sense a prime example of the neck problem” (p. 92).

Stereotyping is something that we are all guilty of in one way or another. Epley describes it as the “uses and abuses of stereotypes”. Using stereotypes can help you make decisions well. At the same time, stereotyping can help you make terrible decisions. Stereotypes come from your previous observations, as well as others, to make conclusions of others’ minds. These senses contain a portion of truth; they also contain errors. When tested scientifically, they concluded that “some genuine differences exist in the world between groups of all kinds, you can observe some of those differences directly, and your memory generates a reasonably accurate average of those genuine differences”. The problem is that stereotypes about groups of people are not as accurate as of the tests. The reason for this is that we get “too little information”, define “groups by their differences”, and are “unable to observe the true causes of group differences directly” (p. 124).

The last part of the strategy is how we can misread people’s actions. Epley uses Hurricane Katrina as an example. He explains how Americans could not understand the minds of the people that chose to stay when there was a mandatory evacuation. People assume that those that stayed chose to do so and completely ignored the evacuation. This was not the case for many civilians in the area. Most of the people that did not evacuate were poor, had bigger families, less access to news, and did not own cars. These reasons were a big factor as to why they could not leave. They did not have the choice to leave, but their actions were misinterpreted by many Americans. People’s actions do not always reveal what they actually prefer, so we can not accurately judge one by their actions.

In conclusion, Epley reveals that the best way to read another is for each person to be transparent. Even though he states many great ways and tools for people to use to understand another person’s mind, the most useful way to understand is to simply ask. “The secret to understanding each other better seems to come not through an increased ability to read body language or improved perspective-taking, but, rather, through the hard relational work of putting people in a position where they can tell you their minds openly and honestly” (Epley, p. 183). To truly understand another’s mind, simply ask and be open to what they have to say. Our sixth sense is built on one of our other senses, the ability to speak. Overall, this is the most effective way to understand another’s mind. 

Personal Insights:

Why I think:

  • The author is one of the most brilliant people around…or is full of $%&#, because:

I would not say that Nicholas Epley is a genius, nor would I say that he is not credible in his writings. He is a renowned psychologist that is simply showing the readers how to understand other’s minds. Epley uses many great examples in his book that he tremendously elaborates. He has done many social experiments, which validates everything he talks about in this book. Many of the suggestions Epley makes are applicable, keeping this book interesting. At the end of the book, though, Epley basically contradicts himself. Throughout the book, he is describing ways to help the readers better understand other people and how to use their sixth sense, but when we get to the end of the book, we find out that none of those things will actually help us really understand what one is thinking. Epley states, “The secret to understanding each other better seems to come not through an increased ability to read body language or improved perspective-taking but, rather, through the hard relational work of putting people in a position where they can tell you their minds openly and honestly…if we really want to understand what’s on the mind of another, the best our mortal sense can do may be to rely on our ears more than our inferences” (p. 183-184). Epley is a very intelligent psychologist and understands how to relay his message is simple, relative terms.

  • If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

1. I would not have ended the book as Epley does. Instead of ending saying that there is ultimately no way to use our inferences to understand someone’s mind, I would have begun the book with that thought. It was almost a let down when I read that. I felt as if I wasted my time reading about ways I could benefit myself to understand one’s mind, just to find out that there is ultimately no way to actually understand what that person is thinking about without asking them. 

2. Many authors’ reviews of this book stated how they admired how Epley did not talk much about the neuroscience of the brain. Personally, I would have liked to hear more about that part of the brain. The neuroscience of the brain seems interesting to me, yet he barely touched base on that subject. I think he could have elaborated more on that subject.

3. I would have also liked this book to be more business-related. I found that I had to nit-pick parts to be able to relate it to business/management. If there was one chapter or section of the book that deeply talked about understanding minds in the workplace, then I feel that I could have taken away more applicable knowledge to use in my career.

  • Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1. Anthropomorphism. Before this book, I did not even know what this word meant. He used anthropomorphism to talk about how people believe that there is a God and gives a mind to a mindless being. At first, I felt like he was attacking believers of the faith. Keeping an open mind, it really allowed me to see his opinion for what it is, and it turned out to be really interesting. In a series of experiments, Epley found that those who were isolated or lonely were more likely to anthropomorphize an object or a god. He compares this idea to the movie Cast Away, where Tom Hanks’ character is stranded on an island and because of isolation creates a nonexistent mind in the form of a volleyball (p. 79).

2. We only use 10 percent of our brains. I am sure many people have heard this and actually believe it. I even believed this until reading this book. Epley reveals how this is a myth cherished by psychics. They believe that 90 percent of the brain is contained of untapped potential. This turns out to be false. These “potentials” are triggered every second of people’s lives without them even knowing it. The unconsciousness of the brain is used every second, and it is something we will never understand (p. 20).

3. Perspective-taking is something that I thought I knew all about. This book proved me wrong. “Put yourself in their shoes”. It is something we hear all the time to get us to understand the perspective of someone else. This is something I believed to be true. The problem with this is that you can’t literally see the world through someone else’s eyes. We imagine how we would see the world through their eyes. We can never truly see what they’re thinking or feeling (p. 167).

  • I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1. This book has taught me how to communicate correctly with or without inferences. I can apply this in any situation in which I find myself. In my career, I can now communicate with fellow employees and leaders efficiently with the tools that I have taken from this book.

2. In situations where I feel unsure, I will simply ask. This was proven to be the most efficient and simple way of understanding another’s mind.

3. Overall, I have learned to be open-minded, and I think this is one of the biggest take-aways for me. In my career, I will be open to correction, open to help, open to give, and open to receive. In my opinion, everyone should apply these characteristics to their own lives.

  • Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

“What others (scholarly and magazine reviews – along with on-line reviews – not simply reviews off the back of the book) have said about the book and its author?”

Many seem to admire the simplicity Epley used in writing this book. He did not go in-depth about the neuroscience and philosophical areas of the brain. He instead explains perception and how we see each other and come to conclusions from there. Epley’s “mind-reading” is more of understanding a person individually. Many lessons are applicable to this book.

Epley is very genial in his language throughout his book. That being said, Daniel Levitin states, “Mr. Epley makes it clear that he thinks anyone who believes in God is making a grave error of reasoning.” This could rub people the wrong way while reading if they do believe in a god. Epley talks about God and anthropomorphism throughout the book, making it seem like he personally has issues with God.

Robert Epstein discusses a part in the book that has not been talked about much to my surprise, which is the ending, the most crucial part of any book. Epstein actually describes my feelings as he says, “Toward the end, when it looks like Epley is finally going to show us how to overcome our deficits, we are let down. If you really want to know someone’s mind, he says, forget the two most commonly recommended methods: evaluating gestures and facial expressions and trying to imagine the other person’s perspective…Instead, he says, just ask what someone is thinking. In other words, forget mind-reading; we need “to rely on our ears more than on our inferences.”” This cancels out everything he discussed in earlier chapters of the book. Epley says that there is really no way to know another’s mind without asking them what they are thinking or feeling.

Seamus Potter, a psychologist, also talks highly about this book. He mentions Epley’s suggestions on how to better use your sixth sense, mind reading. “The secret lies in perspective, getting rather than perspective-taking.” Instead of putting yourself in their shoes, ask that person how it feels to be in their shoes. You can not fully understand how someone is feeling by pretending to be in their shoes because, ultimately, you still feel as you would feel in their shoes. The ultimate key to mind reading is by simply asking.
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AboutHaasim A Shethwala

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