Psychologists make a living out of predicting what people will do. By mastering the science of behavioral predictions, we can help everyone from advertisers to therapists anticipate how people will respond in a given situation. Unlike the evil villains of sci-fi movies, psychologists are obligated to use this information for ethical purposes. We are trained to use the scientific method to make our predictions. We develop our powers to predict behavior through observation, training, and experimentation.
For the average individual, the goals of predicting people’s behavior are far more practical. You want to know whether to take a risk and invite someone you’ve just met to join you for a meal or perhaps just a cup of coffee. Before you do that, you most likely would like to be fairly sure that your invitation will be met with an enthusiastic “yes” rather than a flat-out rejection. Perhaps it’s a work-related situation. Are you about to close a sale, land a new job, or want to be granted a day off? You’d like to know ahead of time whether the client, employer, or boss is inclined to go along with your wishes. Even in less clutch situations, it would be nice to predict the behavior of people you don’t know very well or will never meet again. Will the woman ahead of you in line at the checkout counter allow you to scoot ahead when you’re running late or will she call over the store manager and complain about your rudeness?
These are just a few of literally thousands of interactions we have in our daily lives in which we have to probe into the recesses of someone else’s mind and anticipate what he or she will do. From high-stakes situations to the relatively mundane, having mind-reading powers would certainly seem like a worthwhile ability to possess.