Honesty Signals

A new book from MIT Press is a major contribution to “Signalling Theory“. It is called Honest Signals by Alex (Sandy) Pentland.

From the press release for the book:

“How can you know when someone is bluffing? Paying attention? Genuinely interested? The answer, writes Sandy Pentland in Honest Signals, is that subtle patterns in how we interact with other people reveal our attitudes toward them. These unconscious social signals are not just a back channel or a complement to our conscious language; they form a separate communication network. Biologically based “honest signaling,” evolved from ancient primate signaling mechanisms, offers an unmatched window into our intentions, goals, and values. If we understand this ancient channel of communication, Pentland claims, we can accurately predict the outcomes of situations ranging from job interviews to first dates.

Pentland, an MIT professor, has used a specially designed digital sensor worn like an ID badge–a “sociometer”–to monitor and analyze the back-and-forth patterns of signalling among groups of people. He and his researchers found that this second channel of communication, revolving not around words but around social relations, profoundly influences major decisions in our lives–even though we are largely unaware of it. Pentland presents the scientific background necessary for understanding this form of communication, applies it to examples of group behavior in real organizations, and shows how by “reading” our social networks we can become more successful at pitching an idea, getting a job, or closing a deal. Using this “network intelligence” theory of social signaling, Pentland describes how we can harness the intelligence of our social network to become better managers, workers, and communicators.”

Tuning in to unconscious communication” (MIT)

The power of unconscious signalling continues to amaze me. For years hypnotists and Influence experts have claimed (or warned) that very subtle factors influence decision making and judgements.

For a superb overview of the subject of decision making and choice, I strongly recommend an episode of the new series of Radio Lab devoted to the subject called “Choice“.

Look out for part 3 “Is Free Will Really Free?” where professor John Bargh describes a stunning experiment where the temperature of a drink has a powerful effect on judgement:

“Judgment of character can be influenced by something as simple as the temperature of a drink held in our hands, according to a US study published today.

Researchers from Yale University conducted experiments that showed that people perceive others as more generous and more attentive if they have just been holding a hot cup of coffee, and that the inverse is true for cold drinks.

A second study found that people are more likely to give something to others if they held something warm, and more likely take something for themselves if they held something cold.”

Judgement of character affected by hot cup of coffee: study – Sydney Morning Herald

Here author Alex (Sandy) Pentland explains the book:

Also see:

Honest Signals – How They Shape Our World

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