Dirty Tricks of Psychology to Read People’s Minds
Let me tell you an interesting story you will relate to. One day I was walking the golf course, caddying for my older brother Nathan who is a professional golfer and playing in a regional qualifier for the Australian Open. He started the day strongly with a few shots under par, but the turning point came on the eleventh hole when he hit a bad two-iron from the tee on a par 4. Being a left-hander, he pulled the golf ball left where it ended out-of-bounds. Following that eradicate shot, his quality of play did not improve for the remainder of the day.
At the end of the round, he failed to qualify for the national tournament by two shots. In the clubhouse we had a drink then talked about what he did well and what he could have done better. “I was surprised by the quality of your chip shots and game around the greens,” I remarked. “Everything went within 2 meters of the pin.” Not to concerned about the disappointed day, Nathan replied, “Yeah, you’re right. My wedge game was strong today. Just…” to which I interrupted and said, “The eleventh 2-iron.” He echoed my words, “Spot on, the eleventh 2-iron.”
I let him continue to talk as his words almost perfectly described the words in my mind. Something happened between our minds. It was like a magic trick taking place. A mystical cable connected our minds, leading to strange psychological phenomena.
The distance between two brains was removed as two minds overcame physical boundaries to connect with one another.
It seemed we almost had psychic powers. He was not just reading my mind, I was also reading his. There was a shared connection, a relaying of thoughts exchanged between minds. The distance between two brains was removed as two minds overcame physical boundaries to connect with one another.
There was no two persons trying to talk to one another – frustrated in their misunderstandings. There was no interpretation, judgments, or confusion about what each other meant. We were attuned to one another that we did not have to say a word and we would understand what was in the other person’s mind.
What happened here? Was it a fluke, a lucky break? Were psychic powers at work? How does psychology explain this? How can you use this information to read someone’s mind and improve your communication skills?
We Were Born to Connect: The Roots of Empathy Gave Us Innate Psychological and Physiological Connections
In 328 BC, Aristotle said humans are social animals. Nowadays, evidence is showing that humans are born to connect with one another. Much fascinating research on psychology, sociology, neuroscience, and child development is revealing how we connect in our relationships.
From birth, a baby prefers his or her mother’s voice, sight, and smell than that of a stranger’s. The mother is more connected to the baby than an outsider. As the baby grows, other attachments form. Should a babysitter come over to look after the toddler as the mother leaves the house, the toddler experiences separation anxiety and clings to the mother’s leg. (The anxiety is important for survival and avoiding dangerous situations.) The child can be joyous 10 seconds prior to seeing the babysitter, but the sight of the stranger creates distress.
As the mother leaves the house, she feels her child’s anxiety. The child may say no words or cry no tears, yet the mother mind-reads her child’s emotional state. She is able to feel exactly what the child feels. There is a mind-to-mind and mind-to-body connection.
Interpersonal communication is not just about the direct channels of verbal and nonverbal communication obvious to people. Though we can be aware of people’s words and body language, reading someone’s mind goes to the next level. When you know someone well enough, you pick-up on indirect channels that give you hunches about the other person. Nothing needs to be said or expressed nonverbally; it is your intuition – almost a sixth sense – that tells you what is on the person’s mind.
People connect not just through a topic of conversation they enjoy, but at a biological level. Our bodies adjust to match the body of someone else. When you deeply connect to someone in a conversation, your posture, movements, and heart rate match. (Do not confuse this with mirroring taught in NLP.)
This power gives you the ability to control a person’s mood. A mother can relieve her distressed baby only with her soothing voice. You literally change people’s bodies with your thoughts.
Social and emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman is a leader in the mind-to-mind and mind-to-body connections we share with each other. In a New York Times article, Goleman discusses the powerful connection we share with people. He refers to one study that measured a female’s anxiety. Researchers had a group of females hold someone’s hand prior to receiving an electric shock. When a female held hands with a stranger, she remained distressed. When a woman held her husband’s hand, brain scans confirmed little activity in the emotional parts of her brain. She kept calm. The husband’s hand was a biological source of emotional rescue. Our psychological and physiological states affect ourselves and other people at astonishing levels.
You Have Superpowers
Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.Napoleon Hill (1883-1970), author of the classic Think and Grow Rich!
The greatest reward is to know that one can speak and emit articulate sounds and utter words that describe things, events and emotions.Camilo Jose Cela, Spanish writer and recipent of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Literature
The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.Meryl Streep (1949-present), American actress
Each of us has innate abilities to connect with others. Believe it or not, everyday we read each other’s minds. Whether a friend asks for your opinion on their clothes, a boss wants your input on a coworker’s performance, or a child asks for a gift, you receive what feels like a sixth sense that signals you how to respond. When a friend asks for your opinion on their clothes, you can guess what they think. You have memories, empathy, and gut-feelings about the person’s thoughts that tell you how to respond.
The Sixth Sense
Philosophers, researchers, and lunatics talk of the sixth sense. It may take another century for the sixth sense to be accepted along side sight or rejected like the flat Earth theory.
While scientists and crazy theorists debate, you can build your intuitive powers with an attention to your five senses. You will notice things like Darwin who said his talents came from “noticing things which easily escape attention, and in observing them carefully.” Maybe the sixth sense is hyper-attention of the five senses?
You already have “superpowers”, an ability to determine another’s state. If you did not have such abilities, you would fail miserably in your relationships; you would fail to intimately connect with your partner; you would struggle to persuade others as your negotiation skills would be insufficient to determine what the other person really wants; you would be unable to sense when someone manipulates you. Without this “superpower” to read someone’s mind, you would struggle to cooperate and connect with people.
Unfortunately, the less time you spend with someone and the more distanced you are with them, you become less able to read a person’s mind. We have imperfect abilities to cue in on another person’s thoughts. If it were perfect, there would be little reason to communicate. We would know exactly what everyone thought.
Does this mean a couple intimately connected to one another should know what their partner thinks because time in a close relationship helps build the individual’s mind-to-mind connection? Married people might be laughing at that. Too many married couples can recall endless occasions when their partner had no clue what they thought – yet alone, what they were thinking when they tried to explain themselves.
You come to act as the person acts, feel as the person feels, and think as the person thinks.
William Ickes, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Arlington, is the leading expert in empathic accuracy. Ickes says misunderstandings in marriages occurs from a lack of insight into the partner’s way of thinking. Insight happens through observing and listening. While you may be motivated to understand your partner early on in a relationship, says Ickes, people’s empathy for their partner during the first few years of marriage decreases because they become overly confident in understanding their partner.
Assumptions destroy your human powers to read someone’s mind, build understanding, and establish empathy. Reading someone’s mind is not about guessing or contriving information to arrive at a conclusion – it is about being immersed in the present as you allow yourself to be absorbed by the person’s reality. You come to act as the person acts, feel as the person feels, and think as the person thinks.
Become a Better Superhero: Mind-Reading Tricks (Empathy Techniques)
The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third President of the United States
In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), famed German writer
Every reader, if he has a strong mind, reads himself into the book, and amalgamates his thoughts with those of the author.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
You can smile and the whole world smiles with you. That is the magic of “emotional contagion”, a term created by psychologists to describe the infectious nature of emotions. If you frown at work, you infect coworkers with your sour mood. This connection we have with one another is there for a reason: it connects us! Emotional contagion plays an important role in connecting people together.
We would be separate from each other without emotional contagion; we would have little concern for how people feel; we would be unable to read another’s mind. Intelligently taking on a person’s reality by allowing yourself to become infected with their emotions, lets you infer their thoughts. Some psychologists allow emotions to transfer from their client to themselves, which gives them the ability to peer into their client’s inner world. A psychologist can then discover a thought or feeling their client is not aware of.
Emotional contagion connects us.
Goleman in Social Intelligence discusses the amazing mind-to-mind connection, a connection that transcends physical boundaries. He says the intimacy of our communication controls the degree we can connect with others. When a couple are highly engaged with one another, Goleman says, “Such mental intimacy bespeaks an emotional closeness; the more satisfied and communicative a couple, the more accurate their mutual mind-reading.”
The intimacy of our communication that creates a psychic connection has a neurological justification explains Goleman. It is not some unexplained magical power, but neurological adjustment. As we communicate with someone and experience what other people experience, our neurons form pathways. These neural pathways unconsciously direct messages to form our sixth sense that gives us gut-feelings about what people think. “Our trains of association run on set tracks, circuits of learning and memory,” says Goleman. “Once any of these trains has been primed, even by a simple mention, that track stirs in the unconscious, beyond the reach of our active attention.”
Intimate communication that shapes the brain can only be achieved by intimately sharing another person’s reality. Quietening your inner dialog makes you more able to detect another’s emotions. Without inner silence, empathy becomes a difficult task because there is no two-way communication.
Think back to a time when you were angry with someone you talked to. Your anger was illogical as it caused you to do things you later regretted. You did not care what the other person felt, you were just concerned with releasing your anger. (The 10th chapter on emotions and logic in my communication secrets program can solve this problem for you.)
Better emotional management helps your mind-reading skills to improve your relationships. Four researchers in a study titled Physiologic Correlates of Perceived Therapist Empathy and Social-Emotional Process During Psychotherapy found that therapists and patients who felt the same had a more positive relationship. Similar feelings between people help their relationship.
The researchers from the study say that talking uses a different part of the brain than emotional responses. Being a blabber-mouth kills your ability to emotionally connect with people and read their mind. Listening plays a huge role in connecting minds. By talking too much, you block your biological ability to feel what another person feels – and fail to build a connection akin to mind-reading.
As you quieten your inner dialog to tune into a person’s emotions, be aware that their thoughts and desires will be different to your thoughts and desires. Psychologists call this a “theory of mind. The theory of mind describes the ability to determine another’s mental state and at the same time acknowledge its differences to our own.
How to Read Body Language
The Body’s Language
Body language is an imperfect source of information but it communicates what someone is thinking and feeling. Here are some quick tips you can keep in mind to get inside someone’s mind:
- Dilated pupils can mean the person is interested
- Crossed arms are defensive and can mean the person refuses to listen
- Tapping of the feet can mean boredom
- Widened eyes and an open mouth can signal surprise
Body language and other nonverbal cues help us achieve seemingly psychic powers. Annie Murphy Paul, in a Psychology Today article titled “Mind Reading”, says that body language cues such as facial expressions are a good way to tap into people’s thoughts. Focus on little facial expressions to see what someone feels. “We tend to focus on others’ eyes, and that helps us,” says Paul. “The many surrounding muscles make eyes a richer source of clues than other parts of the face: downcast in sadness, wide open in fright, dreamily unfocused, staring hard with jealousy, or glancing around with bored impatience.”
While the eyes play an important role in determining someone’s thoughts, as does other nonverbal signals like voice, “it’s the content of speech that contributes most to our success at mind reading” says Paul. Meaning is not always directly expressed through words, but words give us insight into people’s way of thinking. It is next to impossible to mind-read someone speaking another language.
Another trick you can use to read a person’s mind is to keep learning about communication, personal development, and human psychology. As you learn more about yourself, you learn more about other people. You come to understand what people feel, how we act, and what we think in certain situations. It is crazy how good I am now at digging into someone’s mind and knowing what is going through their mind in a conversation. I know how people react to many statements, the feelings one has during certain moments, and how to shift all this around to make it work for me.
Responsibility Comes with Power – Be Weary of the Dangers of Empathy
There needs to be a word of warning about your mind-reading superpowers. Before you go out and use the magic tricks of mind-reading, a series of techniques that use our innate ability to connect with one another, use your powers wisely. Empathy expert Ickes, with his academic partner Jeffry Simpson, advise people against the surprising dangers of empathy. “Empathic accuracy and understanding can be bad for relationships,” writes Ickes and Simpson in their study Managing Empathic Accuracy in Close Relationships. “While accurate understanding should be good for relationships as a general rule, too much understanding in certain contexts may have deleterious consequences.”
Diagnosing is one such example of a poor application of mind-reading skills, which is discussed in my communication secrets program. We diagnose others when we express people’s intentions. We try to act above others. You can try to mind-read your partner by diagnosing them (“You’re just jealous”, “Why do you always try to argue with me?”, or “Liar, I know what you really mean”) and hurt the relationship as a result of your diagnosis.
As you learn more about communication, you may be tempted to use the communication barrier of diagnosing because you understand the human mind. Just as someone in marriage gets into relationship-trouble by assuming an understanding of his or her partner, the same happens when you are overly confident about understanding how our minds work.
The sad thing about diagnosing is its accuracy is irrelevant. Merely assuming or revealing someone’s intentions makes them defensive. Your superpowers and all the tricks you have been given to read someone’s mind that are suppose to connect people together, can separate you from people.
Use your mind powers wisely young Jedi. Know when to get into someone’s head and when to stay out. It is not your ability to read a person’s mind that gives you great power with people – that is a skill we all have. Rather, having the skill to keep on understanding people gives you power. Understanding is after all the purpose of peering into someone’s mind.
(To discover cool mind-tricks used by popular magicians to “wow!” their audiences, check out this cool guide.)
Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy persons build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to http://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/