During the opening years of the 1900s a German teacher Her Wilhelm von Osten trained his horse, Hans in maths and the German language. Hans was rewarded with bread, carrots, and sugar. Hans was taught to stomp his hoof providing an answer to a question. For example, what are four times three? He then tapped his hoof twelve times! The questions ranged from very simple to very complex as his experience grew. It went so well that he started performing for audiences. One could say his master was a true entrepreneur and of course that Hans had human-like intelligence. He did however sometimes get the answers wrong, especially if the questioner either did not know the answer to his own question or when Hans couldn’t see the questioner directly. Could it have been a classic case of humans incorrectly humanizing an animal?
Along came a skeptical scientist Oscar Pfungst whose intuition guided him to believe that Hans was a genius in body-language. After a month of experimenting trials on Hans, Pfungst and friends concluded that Hans got their questions right more than 90% of the time when the experimenter knew the answers they asked Hans clever questions. They found that Hans developed a very good ability to look at the questioner’s head. Hans was a true genius in watching body language and non-verbal cues and knew that he could trick humans into feeding him for stomping his foot. The lesson we (HR and other employment professionals) can learn from Hans is that we must be careful when testing people because they can sense what we want from them from reading our bodies through observing subtle and unintentional cues.