If you like to observe whether the person sitting next to you is rhythmically drumming his fingers because he's anxious or if someone is preoccupied because she's gazing off into the distance, make sure to use this talent at the workplace.
According to an interesting study, such "observing" people are high in mind-reading motivation (MRM) which can lead to many social benefits, including better teamwork.
MRM is a newly coined term for the practice of observing and interpreting bits of social information. It is the tendency to engage with the mental states and perspectives of others.
"We're not talking about the psychic phenomenon or anything like that but simply using cues from other people's behaviour, their non-verbal signals, to try to figure out what they're thinking," said Melanie Green, associate professor in University at Buffalo.
Individuals high in MRM enjoy speculating on others' thoughts based on the potentially hundreds of social cues they might receive.
Those low in MRM dislike or have no interest in doing so.
MRM is about the motivation to engage with other minds, and is distinct from the ability to accurately interpret others' cues.
"We didn't measure ability directly in our study of teamwork but the research suggests that just the motivation to understand others, and presumably the behaviours that go along with that motivation, appear to lead to benefits," Green added.
In addition to facilitating cooperation and better teamwork, people high in MRM also consider people in great detail and have a nuanced understanding of those around them.
Those high in MRM seem to develop richer psychological portraits of those around them.
"High MRM people are more drawn to and pay more attention to messages with an identifiable source - a spokesperson or an ad focusing on company values - that is, someone whose perspective they can try to understand," Green noted.
On the other hand, low MRM people seem to pay more attention to ads that are more impersonal, like those that just discuss the product - a message that does not appear to come from a particular person or group.
Green and her colleagues think there might be a difference in how much people enjoy or were motivated to speculate on people's thoughts in situations where there was no situational need or institutional pressure.
It could be as simple as a bus passenger considering the thoughts of those across the aisle.
"This hadn't been previously considered from the standpoint of individual differences," Green stated in a paper published in the journal Motivation and Emotion.
The concept of MRM has been developed by Green and her coauthors Jordan M. Carpenter at the University of Pennsylvania and Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk at Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley.