Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World (MIT Press)

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9780262162562: Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World (MIT Press)

How can you know when someone is bluffing? Paying attention? Genuinely interested? The answer, writes Alex 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 signaling 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.

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About the Author:

Alex (Sandy) Pentland is a leader in organizational engineering, mobile information systems, and computational social science. He directs the MIT Media Lab's Digital Life Consortium, a group of more than twenty multinational corporations exploring new ways to innovate, and is Founder of MIT's Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, established to support aspiring entrepreneurs in emerging markets. In 1997, Newsweek magazine named him one of the 100 Americans likely to shape the century.

From School Library Journal:

Designated by Newsweek in 1997 as one of the 100 Americans most likely to shape the century, Pentland (director, Digital Life Consortium, MIT) introduces a fascinating new way to understand how we read our social environment. To gather scientific data, Pentland has devised the "sociometer," an ingenious instrument for measuring the ways in which humans communicate by "honest," or unconscious, signaling. This device allows Pentland to track social networking by measuring four kinds of signals: influence, mimicry, activity, and consistency. He argues that the influence each person has in social interactions, the reflexive copying of gestures, increased levels of activity when mutual interest occurs, and the consistency of emphasis and timing contribute to our unconscious, hardwired paths of communication. Pentland's lucid treatment of complicated psychobiological principles effectively enables lay readers to grasp difficult but significant concepts. Moreover, his appendixes provide full descriptions of the relevant research methodology. Similar in scope to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Pentland's book is better-suited and recommended for university collections.—Lynne F. Maxwell, Villanova Univ. Sch. of Law Lib., PA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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