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Hardcover | $23.95 Trade | £16.95 | ISBN: 9780262162562 | 208 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | August 2008
Paperback | $12.95 Trade | £9.95 | ISBN: 9780262515122 | 208 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | September 2010

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Essential Info

Honest Signals

How They Shape Our World


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

About the Author

Prof. Alex (Sandy) Pentland is a pioneer in mobile information systems, technology for developing countries, consumer health, and smart environments. One of the most-cited computer scientists in the world, with international awards in the Arts, Sciences and Engineering, he was chosen by Newsweek as one of the 100 Americans likely to shape this century. Prof. Pentland's focus is the development of human-centered technology, and the creation of ventures that take this technology into the real world. His work provides people with a clearer picture of their social environment, and helps companies and communities to reinvent themselves to be both more human and productive. He is founder of more than a dozen companies, research organizations, and academic communities, and is Founder and Faculty Director of both MIT's new Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, and of MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory.


"Honest Signals has a lot to offer. It’s evolutionary, with apes and human ancestors popping up throughout. It’s systems-oriented, driven by the recognition that 'an effective group can potentially be smarter than any of its individual members.' It offers data to support its theory.", Barbara J. King, Bookslut

"A technology poised to change the world."—Technology Review

"Pentland's lucid treatment of complicated psychobiological principles effectively enables lay readers to grasp difficult but significant concepts... 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."—Library Journal


"People are communicating more now than ever before, and we frequently joke about how great it would be to simply turn off our cell phones. Well, you should, for at least as long as it takes to read Sandy Pentland's Honest Signals. Sociometers are now gathering early data on the dominance of our nonlinguistic communications and their importance in increasing our 'network intelligence.' This book will help shape the future of communication."
Bob Metcalfe, 3Com founder, Ethernet inventor, and National Technology Medalist

"A technology poised to change the world."
Technology Review

"Sandy Pentland, always ahead of everyone, has captured in this snappy and well written book, the deep signals we use to communicate and how they shape and reveal our social behavior. A must read."
Michael S. Gazzaniga, Director, Sage Center for the Study of Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara

"A new understanding of organizational effectiveness."