I spend the majority of my time working with computers, and (with the exception of a system glitch here and there) we (computers and I) get along pretty well. So, when tasked with attending a symposium involving *gasp* other humans, I naturally turned to books for guiding me through it. I know, I know—I could have just practiced actual human interaction, but that seemed like a lot of work.
I don't know exactly what I was expecting from David J. Lieberman's book. If I had bothered to read beyond the first half of the title,“You Can Read Anyone,” I probably wouldn't have clicked ‘borrow.’ But apparently I just wasn't on my A-game. And thus, I ended up reading a book for which a more appropriate subtitle might have been something to the effect of How To Be The Creepiest Creep In All Of Creepdom.
I'm no social savant, nor am I a behavioral psychologist, but I do know quite a bit about the scientific method, and a thing or two about being sketched out by weirdos. So, with those credentials in mind, I'm gonna tell you that this book is rife with horrible advice and some seriously distorted views on the application of statistically significant findings from experimental studies in real life.
The Pen and The Gorn
In 1982 a man by the name of Gerald Gorn published a study that, in essence, showed that a given participant in a study was more likely to choose a pen that had been paired with pleasant music than one that had not. Basically, it was good old classical conditioning in action, which set off a storm of excitement about using music in advertising.
So, how might you use this to “read anyone?” Well, to find out whether or not someone liked your presentation, of course. Here's Lieberman's take:
“A person is listening to your presentation. You are both seated in blue chairs. Afterwards, he is taken to a new room with a round table and four chairs: two blue and two gray. If he has a favorable impression of the talk, statistically speaking, he is more likely to choose the blue chair over the gray one.”
Lacking access to Gorn's paper in its entirety, I'm not sure exactly how strong his findings were. However, Gorn had a sample size of at least 122. In Lieberman's presentation scenario it seems that your sample size would be hovering around one or two.
Also, given that the pen study was in a peer-reviewed journal, I would hope that the methodology involved some serious isolation of variables. So, unless you've some how jerry-rigged your post-presentation debriefing room layout to have chairs that are, by forces unknown, equally appealing (ease of access, person's handedness, leg room, etc.), chair choice isn't going to be all that revealing. My advice: Spend all that time you would have spent maneuvering seats working on your presentation.
How To Lose A Guy in 10 Seconds
Lieberman's advice isn't restricted to the office, though. Luckily, he's got some helpful hints for us ladies out there trying to find the right man too. Scenario: You're out on the town with potential Mr. Right, and it occurs to you that he might be on “some kind of substance—prescribed or otherwise.” What's a girl to do?
“To find out, she can ponder aloud, ‘Isn't it interesting that people can use drugs and think that others don't know?’ Alternatively, she could say, ‘I was just reading an article that said 33 percent of adults have tried recreational drugs at one time or another in their lives.’”
I'm not even going to get into just how said lady can “read” his reaction because, at this point, I'm pretty sure the date's over. My advice: If a yes-or-no answer to “Dude, are you high right now?” doesn't suffice, then maybe it's time to call it quits.
For a while, I considered going into quantitative psychology. My mom's a therapist, and my dad's a data guy, so it seemed like a natural fit. Though I ultimately went in a different direction, I still feel the need to defend the field by pointing out that Lieberman's liberal use of the term “psychological math” would make any real practitioner cringe.
“No matter how much a person appears be happy with himself, if he has a big ego, he is not—he is miserable. The statement is not conjecture, but a law of human nature—it is psychological math.”
If I thought I could stomach it, I'd take on his misappropriation of the “transitive property” to draw out “true feelings without arousing suspicion,” but I can only handle so much.
My advice: You can read ANYTHING…I just hope it's not this.