IT may sound like a mythical ability found only in fiction books.

But psychologists at the University of Bath say humans can “mind read” – and women are better at it than men.

Click here to take the quiz and get your mind-reading score

Mind reading is the ability to understand what someone else is thinking or assume it without actually asking them.

It usually involves picking up on behavioural cues and body language to assess if someone is not saying what they are really thinking.

For example, you may notice that your partner is feeling sad without them telling you, just by watching how they are acting. 

Everyone mind reads to an extent in daily life, but some have a more fine-tuned skill than others.

The fact that not all of us are good at mind-reading can cause challenges, for example people with autism who may struggle to form relationships or communicate with people.

Dr Punit Shah, senior author of the study for Bath, said: “We will all undoubtedly have had experiences where we have felt we have not connected with other people we are talking to, where we've perceived that they have failed to understand us, or where things we've said have been taken the wrong way. 

“Much of how we communicate relies on our understanding of what others are thinking, yet this is a surprisingly complex process that not everyone can do.”

He explained that mind-reading refers to understanding what other people are thinking, and is different to empathy which is understanding what others are feeling. 

“The difference might seem subtle but is critically important and involves very different brain networks,” he said.

Senior author Dr Lucy Livingston, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said: “The ability to understand other people’s minds is really important for successful social interaction among humans.

“However, so far we know very little about why some people are particularly good at – or struggle with – mind-reading."

The team created a four-part quiz that asks people how easy they find it to “put themselves in someone else's shoes”.

They used 4,000 people, with and without autism, to put it together.

Scores range from 4 to 16, with 4 indicating poor mind-reading abilities and 16 indicating excellent abilities. 

The average score for their questionnaire was between 12 and 13.

But the researchers found that females reported better mind-reading than males, with an average score of 12.6 compared with 12.1.

Take the quiz

  1. I find it easy to put myself in somebody else's shoes

Strongly disagree (1 point)

Slightly disagree (2 point)

Slightly agree (3 point)

Strongly agree (4 point)

2. I sometimes find it difficult to see things from other people's point of view

Strongly disagree (4 point)

Slightly disagree (3 point)

Slightly agree (2 point)

Strongly agree (1 point)

3. I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective

Strongly disagree (1 point)

Slightly disagree (2 point)

Slightly agree (3 point)

Strongly agree (4 point)

4. I can usually understand another person’s viewpoint, even if it differs from my own

Strongly disagree (1 point)

Slightly disagree (2 point)

Slightly agree (3 point)

Strongly agree (4 point)

What your score means

10 or below: You have difficulty understanding what other people are thinking. You probably struggle to understand and respond to others in social situations, especially when there are many people around.

Between 11 and 14: You have average or statistically 'normal' understanding of what others are thinking. Most people will score 12. You might sometimes struggle to understand others, but you are usually able to understand and respond to others in social situations.

15 or above: You are well above average, and have a strong understanding of what others are thinking. You are likely to have good social skills, even in situations involving several people.

The survey was self-reporting, meaning it is not entirely reliable as it uses people's own perceptions of themselves.

The study also confirmed people with autism find it harder to read what people are thinking.

Rachel Clutterbuck, lead author of the study, said the one-minute quiz could lead to better support for people with difficulties understanding others’ thoughts.

She said: “It is not always obvious if someone is experiencing difficulties understanding and responding to others—and many people have learnt techniques which can reduce the appearance of social difficulties, even though these remain.”

Dr. Shah added: "This research has been about understanding more about our mind-reading abilities and providing solutions to those who might struggle, particularly the autistic community. 

“We have created a freely available questionnaire which we hope can help identify people who are experiencing mental difficulties relevant to social situations."

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