Mind Reading

How to Read Minds

The popular perception of "mind reading”—the act of knowing someone’s thoughts and feelings through innate, telepathic means—is likely an impossible feat of fantasy. What is real, however, is the psychological concept of "empathic accuracy," which is the ability to accurately map someone's mental terrain by reading the cues telegraphed by their words, emotions, and body language.

Most people possess the skill of empathic accuracy to some degree, although those on the autism spectrum or individuals afflicted with psychotic disorders may struggle to read other people's emotions or social cues. But because humans are naturally inwardly focused, and have evolved certain methods to deceive others, even the most socially adept can be thrown off from time to time by the signals of those who are intent on keeping their feelings and motives opaque. For some people, knowing their own mind is challenging enough, let alone the minds of strangers or even relatives, friends, or partners.

I Know What You're Thinking

A supernatural sense of mind reading is commonly used for nefarious purposes in works of fiction. In the real world, having a clear sense of what others are thinking and feeling can help people avoid common miscommunications—even with strangers—and strengthen personal relationships in the long run. When it comes to “reading someone’s mind,” (or perhaps more accurately, reading their mood) body language, tone, and choice of words are usually the best places to start. Another critical element is empathy—putting oneself in someone else’s shoes can provide key insight into their perspective, and make understanding their thoughts, feelings, and actions that much easier.

When Mind Reading Is Impaired

Several psychiatric and behavioral disorders, like autism, ADHD, or antisocial personality disorder, make reading the thoughts and feelings of others a challenge. Although people with autism and ADHD often don’t lack empathy, they can struggle to pick up on subtle hints or may respond impulsively without taking the time to assess someone’s words or tone of voice. These difficulties likely have roots in multiple areas of the brain, and some recent research has pointed to atypical activity in a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex, which plays a role in emotion, moral decisions, and social evaluation. In the cases of autism, ADHD, and other developmental disorders, behavioral therapy can help teach common social cues that, when unnoticed, make reading other people’s thoughts difficult.


ADHD, Autism, Empathy

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