Reading is the supreme lifehack — distilled knowledge that often took years to assemble can be consumed in just a few hours.
And the more you know about social psychology and human behavior, the better.
At Help Scout we have learning stipend for our teammates so you can buy as many books as you need. You’re probably not surprised to hear that I’ve built myself quite the collection of psychology books.
Lucky me. Because reading books lets you jump-start your education by absorbing what researchers, professors, and authors spent years putting together.
I can’t think of a single better way to empower yourself than that.
Note: While all of the books below will deal with the human mind, not all of them are purely scientific. Some books deal with persuasion, productivity, social interaction, or look closely at consumer behavior. With that caveat, let’s begin.
1.) The Social Animal - (Link To The Book)
I think, it's the greatest general overview of social psychology ever written.
This book seems to be in such high demand that the Amazon prices are often outrageous.
The demand is warranted however, few books will give you as in-depth, interesting and just a generally well written overview of social psychology quite like Elliot Aronson’s classic.
A must-read if you can obtain it; I consider it the best presentation of social psychology 101 ever written.
2.) Influence: Science and Practice - (Link To The Book)
This is considered the gospel on the psychology of persuasion. Cialdini’s now infamous work deserves the amount of praise it gets.
Not only is the book easy to follow with tons of excellent examples (explained in laymen terms), Cialdini also spends the time to go into why these studies played out as they did.
Lastly, he addresses how to defend yourself from persuasion techniques that wish to harm you rather than ethically convince you (scammers, people selling faulty products knowingly, disingenuous attempt to persuade, etc.) A true classic.
3.) Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive - (Link To The Book)
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book, but just be forewarned that this should be used as a compliment to the other more comprehensive entries on this list.
While the book is informative, the studies are grazed over pretty quickly, not much depth is given to any individual study. It does make for a great “rabbit hole” read.
This is where you find out about a study, look up more about it, find more related studies, and “go down the rabbit hole” searching for new material. A great starting point to getting your feet wet in a variety of persuasion related studies.
4.) Thinking, Fast and Slow - (Link To The Book)
Without a shadow of a doubt, one of my all time favorites.
Trying to go over what this book digs into would take me a whole post in itself, so allow me to just gush: This book is damn awesome, read it!
Seriously though, for behavioral research, there are few books that touch the scope and breadth that Dan Kahneman dives into with this masterpiece
Mr. Kahneman holds a Nobel Prize in economics as well, and this aspect shines through in the book’s many examples.
5.) Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard - (Link To The Book)
The Heath brothers, Dan Heath and Chip Heath, put out some of my favorite material on the subject of persuasion.
Their book Switch aims to answer the question: “Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives?”
Specifically, why is it so hard to change things that have become commonplace. Their arguments are structured well, as is their other entry on this list, and incredibly readable; you can tell that a lot of effort was put into breaking the book down into appropriate sections and making it easy to pick up by anyone.
6.) The Art of Choosing - (Link To The Book)
This is the quintessential read on how human beings make choices and what external influences affect those choices.
I first came across Sheena Iyengar’s work through finding out about her infamous “jam study” through an online publication.
Needless to say, I was fascinated by the idea that choice can actually overwhelm, causing people to delay choosing rather than benefit from the extra options offered. It’s a fantastic read and very enjoyable all the way through, I happen to consider Sheena a great writer as well as a great researcher.
7.) Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value - (Link To The Book)
Human beings have zero understanding of intrinsic value. We are heavily influenced by contextual clues when we examine things like “price” and “cost.”
This has been shown via a number of studies, and this book offers a superb analysis of the literature.
You’ll be very surprised to see just how easily marketing departments can influence our perception of things with subtle tweaks to pricing, making this an important read for every consumer, which is all of us.
8.) Stumbling on Happiness - (Link To The Book)
Despite the title of this book, this isn’t a self-help book by any means. It’s more concerned with the process in the mind than on ways you can “be your best self.”
One commentor pointed out a quote that fits the book well: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”
It’s a fitting quote because the entire book reveals how your brain is essentially hard-wired into doing the exact opposite. Fortunately, Gilbert’s incorporation of research and insightful anecdotes make this one of the most enjoyable positive psychology books out there.
9.) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us - (Link To The Book)
Again, a book that may seem like self-help, but really isn’t. Drive spends a majority of it’s time focusing on what gets us motivated in the workplace.
It examines the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators that allow us to keep pushing, and questions which methods of utilizing both (with intrinsic being far more important) are the most effective for both employees and employers.
The book is a really important read, and I love how Pink tackles the subject, but I couldn’t help but agree with the highest critical review: the book has some padding. If you don’t mind a few sections going on a bit longer than they should though, this book is a must read.
10.) Predictably Irrational - (Link To The Book)
Few books will make you question your own decisions quite like this one; Ariely shows how seemingly mundane or meaningless changes can greatly impact our behavior when we don’t realize what’s going on, which appears to be a majority of the time.
As a sample, check out his famous pricing study on the Economist, you’ll see how small changes can really play with our perception of things.
I would put this book squarely on the understanding your brain category in this list, but this book also has some fantastic insights on persuading others if you closely examine the given examples.