Book Summaries: Psychology
The best psychology books I have read, summarised in one paragraph. Follow the links to see more detailed book notes and related articles from the blog.
The Art of Thinking Clearly - By Rolf Dobelli
Rolf Dobelli isn’t a psychologist, but don’t let that put you off. This book is without doubt the most accessible read on decision psychology I’ve come across. Dobelli capitalises on his background as a novelist to engagingly outline 99 thinking flaws. Each chapter is bite-size, supported by engaging anecdotal examples and research reflections. It’s a book jammed with insights on the psychology of decision making, and free from the academic jargon that makes so many psychology texts inaccessible.
Related Article: The House Money Effect: Why Your Money Must Feel Like Your Money
Drive - By Daniel Pink
What is the key to motivating ourselves and others in the 21st century? The answer, Daniel Pink suggests, is a far cry from the traditional view of carrots and sticks. Instead, as economic development and socio-technological change have swept the world, humans are now strongly motivated by our third drive: our need for autonomy, mastery and purpose. The quicker we and businesses recognise it the better.
Related Article: The Three Ingredients of Self-Determination
Grit - By Angela Duckworth
In a tour through the psychology of achievement, Angela Duckworth explains how passion and perseverance for long-term goals matter far more than talent. The grittiest get up time and time again in the face of adversity, focusing on deliberate practice to work on weaknesses. And the good news: Duckworth’s research suggests we can develop this characteristic from the inside-out and the outside-in. Grit is a worthwhile read for anyone focused on self-improvement, but perhaps even more worthwhile for parents.
Happiness by Design - By Paul Dolan
Paul Dolan outlines an extensive range of cutting-edge research in the field of positive psychology. Bringing his background in economics to the table, Dolan’s novel contribution is to suggest happiness manifests itself as a result of how we allocate our scarce attention. Happiness, Dolan argues, comes in the experiences that bring us the most pleasure and purpose. By first identifying those areas through techniques such as the Day Reconstruction Method (mapping out our day and measuring our levels of purpose and pleasure) we can then start to nudge our attention towards these “happiness inputs”. The final chapters are dedicated to explaining how we can successfully shift our attention to these inputs.
Related Article: Can Money Really Buy Happiness?
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion - By Robert Cialdini
Cialdini outlines 6 principles of influence based on empirical research and undercover experiences in various compliance fields: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. The first principle (reciprocity) refers to our tendency to feel obliged to return favours, even if the favour is unwanted. The second principle (commitment and consistency) refers to our preference for consistency, and how sales professionals can use that against us by escalating levels of commitment. Cialdini then expands on our higher likelihood to agree to offers from people who we see as similar to ourselves (social proof), from people who we like and from people in authority. The final principle (scarcity) refers to our tendency to want something more when we think there is less of it (e.g. “limited time only” offers).
Related Article: How to Use Commitment Devices to Form Lasting Habits
Lost Connections - By Johann Hari
As a child and young adult, Johann Hari believed what the prevailing pharmaceutical narrative told him: that his longstanding depression and anxiety were the result of a chemical imbalance, and that this chemical imbalance was best fixed through chemical antidepressants. In Lost Connections, Hari recounts the research that changed his view on depression and anxiety entirely. Through interviews with over 200 experts and review of extensive scientific research, Hari arrives at the conclusion that the fast rise in depression and anxiety is not a result of chemical imbalances, but of nine or more rising factors around us in the world.
Nudge - By Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
Thaler and Sunstein introduce a novel concept: libertarian paternalism. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Except, not quite. Their central idea is based on the fact that human beings make predictable mistakes when faced with choices due to cognitive biases, such as anchoring, herd mentality and status quo bias. By framing choices differently (or changing ‘choice architecture’ as they put it), they argue that we can direct ourselves freely to better decisions. Examples and suggestions are made for areas like retirement, healthcare, and even organ donation.
Related Article: The Power and Perils of the Default Option
The Power of Habit - By Charles Duhigg
The Power of Habit explores the science behind habits. The book begins by outlining the basis of all habit formation: the habit loop, along with some evidence from neurological science and psychology. The basic premise is that habits are formed based on a cycle of cue, routine and rewards. The interaction of cues and rewards can create the presence of cravings, which reinforce habit loops. Habits can be reformed, Duhigg argues, by replacing the routine in the habit loop, but keeping the cue and reward – though willpower plays a critical role. Duhigg spends a number of chapters outlining examples of keystone habits: individual habit loops capable of cascading through societies and businesses.
Related Article: Stretch, Sleep, Repeat: The Neuroscience of Habits
Predictably Irrational - By Dan Ariely
Amongst the flood of decision-making psychology books to emerge from the 21st century, Predictably Irrational nails some of the decision psychology that underpins poor consumer choices. It’s also one of the earlier books to emerge on this topic in this century. With wide-ranging examples of scientific experiments, Ariely demonstrates the power of decoys in comparisons, our bias towards freebies, the endowment effect, how placebos address symptoms, and much more.
Related Article: The Endowment Effect: Why We Overvalue Our Stuff
Quiet - By Susan Cain
Many institutions overestimate the benefits of extroversion, in some cases to the detriment of effective and innovative work in solitude. In this illuminating read, Susan Cain takes a tour through the research on introversion, revealing the science-backed benefits of embracing introverts.
Related Article: The Dying Art of Being Alone With Your Thoughts
Think Like a Rocket Scientist - By Ozan Varol
As a former rocket scientist, Ozan Varol believes we can all apply the thinking tools from his field. The book explores a range of models and strategies for generating, testing and refining new ideas across all walks of life. A must-read for anyone that wants to enhance their problem solving and creativity.
Related Article: Inversion: The Power of Thinking Upside Down
Thinking, Fast and Slow - By Daniel Kahneman
A Nobel prize-winning psychologist outlines a lifetime’s worth of research insights, covering his seminal work on cognitive biases with Amos Tversky through to his more recent work on positive psychology and happiness. The book accessibly demonstrates through research and practical examples for the reader how we can model our decision patterns with two systems: System 1 (emotional and impulsive) and System 2 (logical and rational). These two systems set the premise for explaining a wide range of cognitive biases in human decision making.
Related Article: Cognitive Biases: Predictable Thinking Errors and How to Avoid Them
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