Bryan Turner's blog

Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want

Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want

by Nicholas Epley

Knopf, Borzoi Books (2014)

Summarized by Bryan Turner


Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want is a book about our “sixth sense”, or mindreading, but there’s nothing supernatural about it. Epley is an experimental social psychologist, and this is a book about his research into how we understand the intentions, motives, thoughts, beliefs, feelings and wants of ourselves and others, our mistakes in doing so, and what we can do to correct for these predictable errors.

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To improve ethics, changing people matters less, and changing situations matters more, than you probably think

Jonathan Haidt and I recently had the good fortune to have lunch with David Einhorn (the founder of Greenlight Capital) and his team at the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust (EFCT).  EFCT works on promoting empathy to help people get along better.  It’s a great mission and has substantial overlap with Jon’s Civil Politics project.  To prepare we tried to think through how we could best help EFCT accomplish their goals.  Three things stood out that are relevant to Ethical Systems: 

1) People matter less, and situations matter more, than you probably think

2) “Homo duplex” and behavioral ethics are the new behavioral economics for flourishing

3) We need a clearer understanding of the tools available to promote cooperation

This post is about the first point.

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Come Work with Us

We’re looking to add an experienced communications person to our team.  Job description below.

Do you believe that business can be a much greater force for good in the world?  Do you want to help us make it so? We’re a non-profit collaboration of researchers at America’s top business schools who are drawing on the best social science research to help companies improve their ethical culture and behavior.

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The Slippery Slope to Habitual Unethical Behavior and How to Prevent It

Ethical Systems collaborator Francesca Gino has a piece in the Harvard Business Review on how unethical behavior becomes habit.  It turns out that people are much more likely to engage in unethical behavior when it occurs bit by bit, slowly over time, rather than in one large, decisive unethical decision.  However, as Gino writes, "Our research similarly indicates that ethical nudges can help people avoid the types of indiscretions that might start them down the slippery slope." 

Click here for the full article on HBR and here for more research and some ideas to apply on how to reduce cheating and increase honesty. 

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Distance, Dehumanization, and Ethical Disengagement

Being mindful of the variety of ways we humans misunderstand each other is instrumental in promoting ethical systems. recently featured an article titled The Psychology of Hate: How We Deny Human Beings Their Humanity from Ethical Systems contributor Nicholas Epley.

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