Monday, April 3, 2017

Mind reading

It seems like "I can't read your mind!" is a classic example of things couples say while arguing.  It's true enough, I suppose, because nobody actually knows the exact content of another person's thoughts.  It's a bit funny to me, though, because so much of what makes human relationships work is based on reading each other's minds.

People rarely explicitly call it "mind reading," lest they be mistaken for talking about some super-natural ability, but as far as I'm concerned, predicting the responses of other humans to stimuli and discerning another's internal state based on external cues is absolutely reading other people's minds.

My kids are certainly accomplished mind readers.  They regularly know exactly what they should do, and how much of it, to produce maximum parental irritation, while still falling below the threshold of negative consequences.

I, too, am a mind reader.  I'm excellent at some kinds: I usually know what to say and how to say it in my papers to obtain A's from professors.  I'm terrible at other types of mind reading: I love my sister-in-law, but when purchasing gifts, I have no idea what items might communicate my appreciation and affection to her.

I have even, on occasion, conducted whole conversations with my husband inside my head, and arrived at mutually acceptable solutions to problems based on the answers I imagined him giving me.

Part of the problem with autism spectrum disorders is an inability to mind read.  People with autism know what they are thinking, but they have difficulty connecting cues like facial expressions and posture to what other people are thinking.  And they often have difficulty predicting what other people will think, especially when those thoughts are abstract rather than concrete.

It's an interesting exercise to intentionally try to identify when you're mind reading, especially because it happens so often in our interactions, and being wrong can be damaging to our relationships.