My Top 15 Behavioural Science Book List
Sep 20, 2019
Ok, you have been asking for this - here it is. My top 15 list of behavioural science books.
As you know, I self-identify as a behavioural scientist first. I trained at LSE, and my cohort was one of the first who trained there. Behavioural science is a booming field of research at the intersection of behavioural economics, psychology, and neuroscience drawing heavily on multiple other social sciences. In the recent years two notable field leaders got their Nobel Prizes - Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler.
The central premise of the field is simple - our conscious thinking is mediated by automatic, evolutionary, quick and subconscious mode of thinking - System 1, which is heavily influenced by the context. In other words, our behaviour may be influenced and changed through the control of the context.
This body of knowledge has vast practical applications for me, as a negotiator and a negotiation coach. It is critical for improving quality of judgements and decisions, designing communication strategies to influence behaviour, and for detecting and responding to influence attempts. It is also a great asset for any coach working to enable behavioural changes for the client. However, the list below is deliberately general, for such was the request. A note: this list is prepared for those who are new to the field and consider where to start.
So, here is the list of behavioural science books, which are always at my hand. I highlight those, which I recommend as a starting point (4 in total). All these books come with vast reference lists, so they are just a doorway into the large (and growing) literature about what really drives human behaviour.
- Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow.
- Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky (ed.). Choices, Values, and Frames.
- Thomas Gilovich, Dale Griffin, Daniel Kahneman (ed.). Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment.
These first three form a comprehensive overview of the behavioural science body of knowledge. TFS is a bible and a reference book, an encyclopaedia of the field of sorts covering all major venues of research and key findings as of 2011. The second and the third are compendiums of articles by the leading behavioural scientists, source material. If you don't want to go into the details of the research, the first one is a perfect introduction to the field by its godfather.
- Gerd Gigerenzer. Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious and Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions.
Yes, I know - two at a time, I cheat. But I like both, and I think that it is critical for anyone interested in human behaviour and behavioural change to understand the work of the main critic of the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.
- Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness.
This is where the key thrill begins. The book is iconic - the authors triggered 'nudge' movement around the world, where policy makers started creating so-called nudge units to complement traditional incentive and information-based policies. Similar nudge units (or behavioural insight teams) were created in many major businesses. As humans fail in many choice situations, the book gives practical advise on how to architect choices to enable people make better decisions. Very applied behavioural science.
- Richard Thaler. Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics.
Intellectual autobiography of Richard Thaler, a Nobel Prize winner and leader of the field. Covers most of his research throughout scientific career in a user-friendly way. Also a great introduction into behavioural economics.
- Max Bazerman & Don Moore. Judgement in Managerial Decision Making.
This is the book where my own behavioural science journey started, back in 2003 at the University of Chicago. It was a required reading. Now it is in its 8th edition, which evidences its popularity among those who teach managerial decision making in business schools and schools of public policy/public management. Very concise - it covers most of the decision-making problems, which we face as managers. It also focuses more on de-biasing as a solution (as opposed to nudging offered by Thaler and Sunstein). Methods are complementary.
- Dan Ariely. Predictably Irrational.
Dan is another thought leader, and also is a great educator in the field. He is at least partially responsible for the great attention of the public to behavioural science. Of course, there are intersections with some of previous works, but his writing style is an incredible fun, and there are lots of new insights about how the context influences our decisions and choices. A definite must read.
- Dan Ariely. The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone - Especially Ourselves.
An array of insights about how context influences honesty. A must for compliance, audit and other control function folks. I know companies, which make this a required read for their internal audit function.
- Gary Klein. Seeing What Others Don't: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights.
Another critic (now reconciled) of Kahneman and a huge admirer of human potential. If you are interested in professional intuition, go for it and enjoy! The brain behind the naturalistic decision-making theory.
- Ran Hassin, James Uleman and John Bargh (ed.). The New Unconscious.
Another compendium of articles summarising what we know (as of 2005) about unconscious processes. A great placer to get up to speed with the research.
- Nicholas Epley. Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want.
One of my personal favourite researchers in the field (both because of his personality and because Nick explores topics, which are highly relevant for me as a negotiator. Want to be a mind-reader (a tip - you already are)? Go for it. "How good are you at knowing the mind of others? How well can you guess what others think of you, know who really likes you, or tell when someone is lying? How well do you really understand the minds of those closest to you, from your spouse to your kids to your best friends? Do you really know what your coworkers, employees, competitors, or clients want?". Yes, this is why I follow his research very closely and find it tremendously insightful.
- Roy Baumeister & John Tierney. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.
Baumeister is THE authority on cognitive control, ego-depletion phenomenon (his term), and willpower. If you are interested in auto-piloting mechanisms and how to improve your control, this is a good place to start.
- Francesca Gino. Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan.
A great researcher from Harvard. I had the privilege to learn from her personally, and I would recommend everything, which she publishes. This one is mainstream, apparently, as it covers why we can't stay on track, and what we can do about it. Very well written, very insightful.
- Caroline Webb. How to Have a Good Day.
I know. Some of my behavioural science brothers and sisters would ask me why I put it here. I do this because this is (1) my personal list, (2) I admire the author greatly, and (3) I am so thankful for putting so much of the behavioural science information together and making my own life easier. Caroline is an ex-McKinsey expert on leadership who draws heavily on behavioural science in her practice as it applies to the human well-being at the workplace. A very practical and useful book. Coaches - very much recommended, if you want to augment you practice with behavioural insight quickly. Someone did our job, for which I am so grateful. Great book.
Finally, If I had 17, I would include:
Laszlo Bock. Work Rules! Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead.
Cass Sunstein. How Change Happens.
The first one is full of behavioural science applications to workplace from ex-head of HR at Google. Enough to say that he is now running his own behavioural science/data science startup Humu helping companies to improve wellbeing of their employees.
The second one is by the co-author of Nudge, and it covers more macro-level social changes. How behavioural insights may explain really major shifts? It is very modern, and it covers many contemporary societal issues. If you want a first-class treatment of social norms, this is a great place to start.
Finally, here is the link to a very influential report (Mindspace report), which served as a foundation for much of the work by the UK Behavioural Insights Team: LINK TO MINDSPACE REPORT.
Enjoy and feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you want more!