For the past few years I’ve been secretly conducting a subtle but daring psychological experiment. I’ve not told anybody about this so you’re the first to hear it right now. At first glance – just as soon as I explain to you what this experiment is – you’re going to think that it’s a bit pointless and inane, but the more you think about it the more questions you’re going to be asking yourself. Hell, you might even try to reproduce my test (under laboratory conditions of course). So here goes.
Let me set the scene. When I go to a supermarket and I’ve finished shopping I go to the checkout. Nothing new there. But once I’ve packed all the shopping into bags (unless I’m at Sainsbury’s where they do it for me, those nice people) it comes time to pay the cashier. So I get out my card and hand it over. Once they’ve printed the receipt and I’ve signed it, the script goes that they get the final receipt printed out, take it from the till and pass it to me along with my card. I take it and I leave the store to carry on with my mundane life.
But let’s rewind a little bit, just to the scene where the cashier is about to hand over the receipt and my card. Hit pause. Now my experiment begins. I’m going to thank the cashier (because I’m a polite young man) and they’re going to say something in response. Unless of course they thank me first and then I respond with thanks of my own (because I’m a polite young man). Moments before this little verbal exchange I have a decision to make. I cycle through all the possible things I could say (see below) and then decide on one, keeping that phrase in my mind. The trick is this, if I they thank me first, will they use the phrase that I’ve already chosen in my head and if I thank them first will they respond by repeating what I just said? In the first case they can clearly read my mind. In the second remember that in most instances they will reply an instant before I’ve finished thanking them and so have probably already made their minds up what they’re going to say. If they match what I’ve said then again they could have read my mind, but it’s less likely.
To properly document my findings, here are the complete set of phrases that I randomly select one from each time I encounter this situation:
- Thank you.
- Respectful nod. (i.e. no words at all, just a nod)
- Are you doing anything tonight? (To female cashiers only)
Okay, I made that last one up, but the first five are true. Anyway, if they get in before me once, you might think it was just chance – after all there are only five choices on my list. And if they respond with the same line I’ve just used, it’s probably because they are just mimicking me as it’s easier for them. Which is why I’ve been doing this for what seem like years, I want to eliminate the element of chance.
The results? Staggeringly, I’m starting to believe that mind reading could actually be possible. In perhaps 90% of cases when they thank me before I thank them, they will use the exact phrase I have stored in my head. The figure goes up to around 98% when I thank them before they can thank me – and in perhaps 60% of those occasions they have begun to reply to me before I’ve finished thanking them. It really has been a revelation.
But my results are not yet conclusive – I need to widen the research group beyond me. So the next time you’re at the checkout ready to get your receipt handed to you, please apply the scientific procedures I’ve highlighted above and carefully document the results. When you think you have any conclusions then feel free to send them to me or put them in the bin – either way you’ll be contributing in a very important way to my long-term study. Thank you for your attention.