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U of C's Rising Star on Mind-Reading, Pet Anthropomorphism

By Margaret Lyons in News on Jan 28, 2008 5:48PM

U of C Business School Assistant Professor Nicholas Epley has been on faculty at the GSB for three years, but this week he's been making headlines around the world. Today's Financial Times profiles Epley as a "professor to watch," focusing on his application of behavioral science methods to business education. According to the article, Epley's brand of mind-reading, which basically amounts to knowing one's coworkers, "looks at how people intuit others' thoughts, how good they are at it and the consequences of what he calls 'mind-reading mistakes.'" The study finds that our perceptions of others and what others think of us are distorted (we think people like us more than they actually do), and these distortions can be improved with better communication. However, "if you want to avoid ambiguity, never depend on e-mail," the article warns.

2008_1_28.myownerislonely.jpgEpley's other high-profile study regards those of us that "call our mutts or Shih Tzus 'baby' and carry them in doggie totes or strollers, even stuffing them into dresses for special occasions," according to the Toronto Star. The study analyzes the relationship between loneliness and the tendency to anthropomorphize.

It's not clear from his research whether or not anthropomorphism is on the rise, but if it is, Epley suggests that it may be a widespread reaction to "increased feelings of social isolation." In the potentially more controversial part of the study, Epley and his team conducted a personality quiz to gauge loneliness in participants, ultimately finding that members of the "lonelier" group were more likely to believe in God, the Devil, angels, and other supernatural agents. Epley concludes that loneliness can be a detriment to health, which makes the case for dressing your dog up, as pet ownership and belief in God can offer significant health benefits to lonely people. -- Mark Boyer

Photo by Matt Stratton