15+ Best Behavioral Science Books for Beginners (and Beyond)
Business problems are just human problems.
The best marketers, designers, and entrepreneurs know this.
To succeed in business, you have to understand how to motivate behavior and persuade customers. But you can’t persuade people if you don’t understand how they think, and this list of book recommendations is a great place to start.
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Beginner Fundamentals to Intermediate
“Our understanding of human behavior can be improved by appreciating how people systematically go wrong.” - Richard H. Thaler
The book that launched a thousand ad agency “Nudge Units”, this is a well-written and easy read that introduces the concept of “nudging” — using science to arrange the environment so that people are more likely to choose a certain option or behavior.
Why can some people and companies change overnight, and some stay stuck in their old ruts? The answer lies deep in the human brain, and The Power of Habits reveals the secret pressure points that can change a life.
From Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps to Martin Luther King Jr., from the CEO of Starbucks to the locker rooms of the NFL, Duhigg explores the incredible results of keystone habits, and how they can make all the difference between billions and millions, failure and success – or even life and death.
Habits aren't destiny. They’re science, one which can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.
"Thinking is to human as swimming is to cats. They can do it but they prefer not to."
- Daniel Kahneman
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman conducts a deep dive into the biases and psychological principles that drive people’s behavior. Kahneman introduces the Dual Process Model of System 1 (fast) and System 2 (slow) thinking. Beware, this isn't an easy read but it's well worth it.
"In 1969 two men met on a university campus. Their names were Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They were different in every way. But they were both obsessed with the human mind - and both happened to be geniuses. Together, they would change the way we see the world."
In this fascinating read author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Big Short), uncovers the human story behind the creation of behavioral economics by examining the friendship of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.
“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”
- Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice
In this book, researcher Barry Schwartz explores how people make decisions in a world overcrowded with options. Schwartz introduces the science-backed idea that less choice can make a big impact on everyone’s behavior and happiness.
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics by Richard Thaler
"From the renowned and entertaining behavioural economist and co-author of the seminal work Nudge, Misbehaving is an irreverent and enlightening look into human foibles. Traditional economics assumes that rational forces shape everything.
Behavioural economics knows better. Richard Thaler has spent his career studying the notion that humans are central to the economy - and that we're error-prone individuals, not Spock-like automatons.
Now behavioural economics is hugely influential, changing the way we think not just about money, but about ourselves, our world and all kinds of everyday decisions."
Choice Hacking, by Jennifer Clinehens
What if you could use Nobel prize-winning science to predict the choices your customers will make?
Customer and user behaviors can seem irrational. Shaped by mental shortcuts and psychological biases, their actions often appear random on the surface. In Choice Hacking, we'll learn to predict these irrational behaviors and apply the science of decision-making to create unforgettable customer experiences.
“We usually think of ourselves as sitting the driver’s seat, with ultimate control over the decisions we made...but, alas, this perception has more to do with our desires...than with reality” - Dan Ariely
In this fascinating read, behavioral economist Dan Ariely outlines the ways people behave irrationally. From assuming that more expensive products are more effective to exploring the “power of free”, Ariely demonstrates how mental shortcuts, biases, and leaps in logic often win over rational thought.
"Discover the alchemy behind original thinking, as TED Talk superstar and Ogilvy advertising legend Rory Sutherland reveals why abandoning logic and casting aside rationality is the best way to solve any problem.
In his first book he blends cutting-edge behavioural science, jaw-dropping stories and a touch of branding magic on his mission to turn us all into idea alchemists. He shows how economists, businesses and governments have got it all wrong: we are not rational creatures who make logical decisions based on evidence. Instead, the big problems we face every day, whether as an individual or in society, could very well be solved by thinking less logically. To be brilliant, you have to be irrational."
Intermediate to Advanced
"Philip Graves reveals the myriad tricks and psychological games high street shops play on consumers; the ways in which we are manipulated into buying things we don't want; the ways in which we deceive ourselves; and the cutting edge behavioural science being used to change our habits to even more significant degrees."
"Convinced that there is a gulf between what we believe influences us and what actually does, [the author] set up a highly ambitious research project that employed the very latest in brain-scanning technology and called on the services of some 2000 volunteers. Buyology shares the fruits of this research, revealing for the first time what actually goes on inside our heads when we see an advertisement, hear a marketing slogan, taste two rival brands of drink, or watch a programme sponsored by a major company."
“All humans are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain, to seek hope and avoid fear, and finally, to seek social acceptance and avoid rejection.” - Nir Eyal
Author Nir Eyal explores the question, “Why do some products capture our attention, while others flop?” Eyal uncovers the patterns that make certain apps and technologies hook us. These insights form the basis of the author’s “Hook Model”, a four-step process that designers can use to build addictive products.
"Behavioral scientist Dr. David Halpern heads up the UK government's 'Nudge Unit,' the world’s first government institution that uses behavioral economics to examine and influence human behavior, to "nudge" us into making better decisions.
Seemingly small and subtle solutions have led to huge improvements across tax, healthcare, pensions, employment, crime reduction, energy conservation, and economic growth. The Nudge Unit has attracted widespread media and public interest—large pieces have run in the New York Times and Economist; and it's been subject to case studies and reviews by the Harvard Business School and Goldman Sachs."
How to Get People to Do Stuff: Master the art and science of persuasion and motivation, by Dr. Susan Weinschenk
For each of the 7 drives behavioral psychologist Dr. Susan Weinschenk describes the research behind each drive, and then offers specific strategies to use. Here’s just a few things you will learn:
- The more choices people have the more regret they feel about the choice they pick. If you want people to feel less regret then offer them fewer choices.
- If you are going to use a reward, give the reward continuously at first, and then switch to giving a reward only sometimes.
- If you want people to act independently, then make a reference to money, BUT if you want people to work with others or help others, then make sure you DON’T refer to money.
- If you want people to remember something, make sure it is at the beginning or end of your book, presentation, or meeting. Things in the middle are more easily forgotten.
- If you are using feedback to increase the desire for mastery keep the feedback objective, and don’t include praise."
New and Interesting Reads
"How a New York Times bestselling author and New Yorker contributor parlayed a strong grasp of the science of human decision-making and a woeful ignorance of cards into a life-changing run as a professional poker player, under the wing of a legend of the game
Maria Konnikova had never actually played poker before and didn’t even know the rules when she approached Erik Seidel – Poker Hall of Fame inductee, winner of tens of millions of dollars in earnings – and asked him to be her mentor. She had faced a stretch of personal bad luck, and her reflections on the role of chance in her life had pointed her to poker as the ultimate master class in learning to distinguish what can be controlled and what can’t. Seidel was in, and soon Konnikova was down the rabbit hole with him, a journey that would lead her to the following year’s World Series of Poker."
"In Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Eric Barker reveals the extraordinary science behind what actually determines success and most importantly, how anyone can achieve it. You’ll learn:
- Why valedictorians rarely become millionaires, and how your biggest weakness might actually be your greatest strength
- Whether nice guys finish last and why the best lessons about cooperation come from gang members, pirates, and serial killers
- Why trying to increase confidence fails and how Buddhist philosophy holds a superior solution
- The secret ingredient to “grit” that Navy SEALs and disaster survivors leverage to keep going
- How to find work-life balance using the strategy of Genghis Khan, the errors of Albert Einstein, and a little lesson from Spider-Man"
"Shockingly, we spend nearly half our day repeating things we've done in the past without thinking about them. How we respond to the people around us; the way we conduct ourselves in meetings; what we buy; when and how we exercise, eat and drink – a truly remarkable number of things we do every day, we do by habit.
And yet, whenever we want to change something about ourselves, we rely on willpower alone. We hope that our determination and intention will be enough to effect positive change. And that is why almost all of us fail.
Professor Wendy Wood is the world's foremost expert on habits. By drawing on three decades of original research, she explains the fascinating science of how we form habits and provides the key to unlocking our habitual mind in order to make the changes we seek.
Combining a potent mix of neuroscience, case studies and experiments conducted in her lab, Good Habits, Bad Habits is a comprehensive, accessible and highly practical book that will change the way you think about almost every aspect of your life.
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