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Beware The Mind Reader

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Kashyk: Captain, do you trust me?
Janeway: Not for a second.
Kashyk: Exactly, and why should you? Trust has to be earned. It's gradual, and yet it's the foundation of every relationship, professional and personal. It's also a concept alien to the telepathic races. Why take someone at their word when you can simply read their mind?
Star Trek: Voyager, "Counterpoint"

One of the Psychic Powers is to read minds of other people. As the mind is pretty much said to be the safest, most private place one has, mind reading can thus be said as the violation of said privacy. And That's Terrible.

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So naturally, people who read minds tend to be portrayed in a negative light. They can potentially know people's secrets (especially their fear) and then use them against said people to manipulate them. If said mind reader is an (oppressive) authority, it's even worse. Don't even think (literally) of escaping them either — for they will know what you're going to do. Thus mind readers are genuine Paranoia Fuel. Less dramatically, mind readers can be a source of comic annoyance since they can see people's embarrassing secrets in their mind and then blurt it out to other people.

A variant of this is when a mind reader cannot control who or what he wants to read; this may lead to them becoming insane, potentially violent misanthropes.

This trope is when a work portrays the practices of mind reading as bad, for the reasons above. Typically this leads to the society enforcing rules for limitations and prohibitions of mind reading characters, or, in darker societies, leads to persecutions, slaughter and trafficking of mind readers. In this case, mind readers have a chance to be sympathetic as much as to be actual nasty people.

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If a mind reader is heroic, they may still be a shady person or be deemed as such in universe.

Combat Clairvoyance based on mind-reading is not generally subject to such concerns, largely because it focuses on immediate thoughts and is directed at people you're already willing to fight physically.

See also Forgot About the Mind Reader, the comedy version of this. Sub-Trope of Bad Powers, Bad People. Compare Invisible Jerkass for another potentially nasty power. Contrast Mind over Manners when mind readers realize the trappings of this trope and becomes a polite person who used their powers responsibly.


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Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Mao of Code Geass has a Geass that lets him read minds. Unfortunately he can't control it, and thus he's driven mad from the ordeal and become a Psychopathic Manchild.
  • Haruka Kotoura from Kotoura-san is a fifteen-year old telepath who can't turn her ability off. As a child her naturally naive personality causes her to simply blurt out sensitive information. This causes her to be labelled as a compulsive liar, to drive her friends and classmates away, and to cause her parent's divorce. However in high school she is finally able to meet Manabe, someone who is transparent, honest, and not scared of her ability.
  • One Piece: God Enel can use a high-level Mantra ability which, combined with his lightning powers, lets him read other people's thoughts throughout all of Skypiea through electric waves that he spreads around. This alone makes him a fearful figure there, but he readily gives a Bolt of Divine Retribution from miles away if he decides someone needs smiting, usually from overhearing people's bad thoughts of him.
  • Satori of Ranma ½ can read minds, much to Ranma's annoyance. He uses this power to reveal lies, find out people's most private thoughts, and pit Akane against Ranma.

    Literature 
  • The technological level of The Culture in the Ian M. Banks novels is so high that the super-intelligent A.I. Minds are capable of reading the minds of humans, thanks to effectors that are used on on humans to basically do a mind probe that has the nasty side effect of a Mind Rape. So their general consensus is not to do it unless it's absolutely necessary. One Mind (The Grey Area) was especially... "pragmatic" in this way, to the point all of its peer minds started calling it Meat Fucker rather than their proper name.
  • In Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, the noble caste (referred to as "Comyn"), have telepathy as one of their defining features, along with red hair. With a society where most of the people (at least those who appear in the books) have telepathy has led to interesting social rules like 'Do not enter another's mind without permission' and if one accidentally 'hears' something they weren't meant to, it is considered polite not to mention it. So the trope is addressed and defied.
  • Played with in the Dark Wing series, where citizens of The Empire tend to greatly distrust the "Sensitives" due to their arrogance.
  • Katherine Kurtz's Deryni have a full range of telepathy from an empathic sensing of emotions through Truth Reading (detecting if someone is telling a lie) through compelling them to speak the truth and all the way up to total Mind Control. The good guys tend to reserve Mind Control for maintaining the Masquerade; the bad guys (and girls) have no such compunctions.
  • In The Dresden Files. Invading the mind of a human—that is, reading minds and mindcontrol —is against wizard law, but transmitting one's own thoughts is legal.
  • In the Firebird Trilogy, both the Sentinels and the Shuhr have telepathic powers. The Sentinels are the "good guys", with strict and strictly enforced limits on how they are allowed to use their powers. The Shuhr are much less pleasant, as they do not put any limits on their use of power, leading to rather frequent Mind Manipulation among those they come in contact with (including the less powerful among their own race).
  • One of the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's entries references an entire planet of beings who were cursed with telepathy. Everyone on their entire planet could hear every thought in every other mind on the planet, whether they wanted to or not, which quickly threatened to drive them bonkers from information overload and/or sheer boredom. They solved this by adopting the habit of constantly talking loud enough to drown out the constant, unwanted incoming mental transmissions.
  • Hive Mind has the Nosies, which are believed to be telepaths, but aren't. Nosies are generally strongly disliked, and the sight of them almost-universally leads to people chanting multiplication tables as Psychic Static.
  • The InCryptid series features the Always Chaotic Evil species known as Cuckoos. Cuckoos are telepathic allowing them to read the minds of others. There also evil monsters who love to prey on humans. They use there mental abilities to ingrate themselves in the lives of there prey, by making them belive that they were always there. They then create cause chaos for those hapless victims often leading to death and pandemonium.
  • In "It's a Good Life" three year old Anthony is a Reality Warper who can read thoughts, so you better be thinking good thoughts at all times.
  • John W. Campbell's short story "Who Goes There?" has an alien with Telepathy and Voluntary Shapeshifter abilities. It uses them to copy both the minds and bodies of its victims before performing a Kill and Replace on them.
  • Patternist: Telepaths can "program" the minds of nearby non-telepaths, who have no defense against it. In Wild Seed, both telepathic characters are casual rapists. In Mind of My Mind, some telepaths organize and effortlessly take over their county through mind-controlled agents. By Patternmaster, they've created a Feudal Future where telepaths are the Supernatural Elite and non-telepaths are forced to enjoy being somewhere between slaves and draft animals in status.
  • In Daphne Du Maurier's Trilby, Svengali is a manipulative and sociopathic character who uses his knowledge of hypnotism to get inside the minds of characters and force them into acts they would not otherwise commit. His prescience often borders on, and is mistaken for, mind-reading.
  • A Wayside School book introduces a new teacher who has the ability to read minds, and uses this to perfect effect to be an Exact Words Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. For example, she promises to not give homework if somebody solves a problem she set, and uses her powers to search for the one kid that is not capable of solving it and makes him go to the blackboard. She also uses this to sow distrust amongst the other students.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5 had the Psi Corps, which housed most of humanity's psionic-capable humans. The Psi Corps constantly act as if they were superior to humanity, and recurring character Alfred Bester loves to be a Troll to everybody and everything that gets in the way of his assignment. It is mentioned later on that the formation of the Psi Corps was done because of this mentality, which makes all that followed a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
  • The 1973 TV romantic comedy The Girl With Something Extra was built around this trope: John Burton discovers that his new wife Sally can read his mind. This news compels John to police his thoughts, lest Sally quiz him about them.
  • The sixth episode of Ghost Story is "Alter Ego," and concerns a grade school boy convalescing at home who is visited by an Evil Counterpart doppelganger. The only way the boy can rid himself of his nemesis is to defeat him in a game of chess, but the duplicate can read the boy's mind to know his strategy.
  • Star Trek
    • Star Trek: The Original Series has the people of Talos 4 lure the Enterprise to their world with a distress signal, then capture and cage Captain Christopher Pike, hoping to compel him with psionic illusions into siring a slave race for the Talosians. Because the Talosians are mind readers, they can easily project illusions based on what their target is thinking.
    • In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation a guest character objects to Troi (a Betazoid, which is a species of mind-readers) being involved in a treaty negotiation. Troi explains that because she's only half Betazoid she can't read minds, just sense emotions. Troi's mother, Lwaxana, is fully Betazoid and she falls into the "comic annoyance" category (although she would be annoying even without the ability to read minds).
    • A Star Trek: Voyager episode centered on an alien world populated by a telepathic race who have banned aggressive thought. It turns out that there is an underground black market of sorts where aggressive emotions are sold like drugs. This causes a few mishaps, including a woman getting murdered.
  • The djinn in Supernatural can read their victims' minds, and then figure out their greatest desires and fears.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mage: The Awakening: Mastigos mages, who specialize in Mind and Space magic, have an in-universe reputation for being manipulative and unreliable. It's exacerbated by their connection to a Supernal Realm that exemplifies a Tough Love approach to facing one's inner demons- your own and everyone else's.
  • Psykers in general in Warhammer 40,000 (though not all of them can read minds). The ones that aren't possessed by Chaos are either completely insane or in the Uncanny Valley (their curse, to basically have all the demons of the Warp hammering on their minds so they can invade the material realm, is simply unfathomable by normal people, so neither psykers nor ordinary humans can really relate to the other). The Navigators are even worse, they're a particular breed of psyker that can see into the Warp, at the cost of being blind and a Third Eye that automatically kills anyone they looks at. Ciaphas Cain, THE HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, describes them as thinking of Muggles as little better than orks with table manners... and those are the ones making an effort to be nice.

    Video Games 
  • Metal Gear Solid has Psycho Mantis, a depraved unrepentant serial killer with psychic powers up the wazoo, including mind reading, which he actively restrains with his mask due to his disgust at humanity. It's quite evident the only reason he's even with Liquid is because he wants to kill lots of people.
  • Komeiji Satori in Touhou is sometimes depicted as this in fanon, using her mind-reading powers to reveal people's embarrassing secrets around others or worse.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles: The telethia are a group of dangerous monsters that have the ability to read the minds of their enemies. This ability is also capable of rendering Shulk's ability to see the future and change it null.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation. SCP-1527 ("Our Bellmaker, Our Radiant Skies"). The large crustaceans summoned by the Bell have a kind of telepathy that can be disrupted by radio jamming. They can use it to telepathically attack human beings at a range of up to 50 meters and cause effects such as confusion, inducing suggestibility, implanting compulsions and leaving messages in their minds.
  • In Whateley Universe, telepaths are required to learn the ethics of telepathy and pass the ethics test afterward in the Whateley Academy. Some telepaths like Don Sebastiano don't follow the rules.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror II'' Bart can read minds, and is generally omnipotent, and holds the town in terror.
  • Miss Martian from Young Justice is a mind-reader and telepath, and initially portrayed as The Cutie, but as the first season progresses we see that she has an incredibly ruthless side. By season two, she routinely wipes villains' minds for information and revenge, and once attempted to alter Superboy's memories to make him forget that he was arguing with her over this abuse of her powers — because Mind Rape is his Berserk Button. Unfortunately for her, he was able to detect that she was trying to do this to him and he called their relationship off right then and there. Part of her arc is learning to rein in and use her powers more responsibly.

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