Best Resources to get into Behavioural Science (Books & Papers Edition)


I previously wrote a post about all the things I would have done differently going into behavioural science. Now I’m a practical type of gal, and I thought rather than just telling you I should’ve read more, pop science and otherwise, I’d actually tell you about the things I would’ve read when going into behavioural science. I hope you enjoy my list!


 

Books Let’s start with my favourite medium of information divulgence: books! Of course, there’s the classics of getting into behavioural science such as Thinking Fast and Slow, Nudge and Predictably Irrational. Personally, discussing these books in turn, I don’t think Thinking Fast and Slow is a good starting point, because it’s not a good read for most people (the writing style is off – in my humble opinion). You could read this paper by Keith Frankish, which will also tell you what you need to know. There’s also a lot of academic papers discussing dual system reasoning (or theory) in depth, and I find them better, and often easier, to read than the book itself. So hop onto Google Scholar and search: dual system reasoning (synonyms: process, thinking, theory). Moving onto Nudge, that one now has a new edition, so make sure to read the updated version as it’s more up-to-date (surprise) and more PC. Yes, times are changing. Last, Predictably Irrational is a staple, and genuinely the most basic introduction book to get into the field. I think that’s a good description of all of Ariely’s pop science books (Dishonesty, Dollars & Sense), they’re good introduction books. They’re a light amuse-bouche before the starter and the actual meal. So let me now present you some books which will seriously satisfy your cravings!


First book that’s a homerun for me: Blindsight by Matt Johnson and Prince Ghuman, who also run the neuromarketing blog PopNeuro. Experts in both neuroscience and marketing, Johnson and Ghuman explain in 10 easy-to-digest chapters how you’re being lead by the nose, and why your brain is allowing you to be lead. Good ready, accessible and applied to things you most definitely know and recognize! Talking about being able to apply behavioural science to yourself, you could do worse than ordering Katy Milkman’s “How to Change”. She’ll tell you how to do it, applying behavioural science. If it’s mainly motivation you’re struggling with, get yourself the newly released “Get It Done” by Ayelet Fishbach. And you might want to: there’s only approximately 4000 weeks in your life, and you might want to make the most of those (technically speaking rather behavioural-science-adjacent, but it's a good lesson! Another kick-up-the-butt book in terms of time management is “Time Smart” by Ashley Whillans. Maybe if you want to apply behavioural science in your own life, but mainly to others, order yourself a quick copy of Zoe Chance’s “Influence is your Superpower”. I really enjoyed reading this book, it gives a good update on the work done in this field, and is easy to digest and self-apply. And yes, I preferred it to Cialdini’s, if you’re desperate for the comparison. If you’re thinking “oh God, I could never influence anyone, I’m just a single drop in the ocean”, think again and order yourself Vanessa Bohn’s “You have more Influence than you think”. Because you really do. In a similar vein, “The Power of Us” also shows what a group of people can really do – more social psychology based but it shows what can happen when a lot of drops in the ocean come together. After all, what is an ocean if not an accumulation of single drops? If you think group behavioural science is too much for you, and you just want to apply behavioural science to find yourself one additional person (if you know what I mean), then grab youself Logan Ury's "How To Not Die Alone". Because if behavioural science cannot even make you a dating wonder, what is it really good for?! Of course, two books which cannot be missed are Rory Sutherland’s Alchemy – he’s the Godfather of applied behavioural science after all, and this book has certainly earned him his stripes, as well as the book “Evolutionary Ideas” by Sam Tatam, which should come out in May 2022. Both of these books are a bit more general, but then we’re only introducing ourselves to behavioural science after all. If you have no issue with a more general approach, another book which CANNOT be missed, is Decoded, which is consumer science oriented, as well as the book series by Yuval Noah Harari which look at the history and evolutionary development of mankind, and uses it to outline the future as well. Good reads, but behavioural adjacent at best. I’m sure there’s many more books which I could have recommended. I’m especially lacking in the Behavioural Science x Tech department but that’s just not my thing – open for recommendations but don’t recommend me Nir Eyal – I have no time for someone who helps create the problem to then place blame at my door whilst trying to sell me the solution.


Academic Papers Now books are hardly the only source of literature on the beautiful topic of behavioural science, there’s wild stuff in its academic literature too (if you can access it, if not, drop me a line). Let’s start off with a great introductory paper to the history and development of behavioural science (economics specifically, in this case). I always like these types of papers because they provide more of a context for a certain type of development. Of course, there’s no escaping reading the godfathers: Kahneman and Tversky. My favourite paper by them is on biases, and is a review of some of the core biases and heuristics that we know and love today. It’s not the easiest file to read, so this slightly updated paper might be better. Of course, they are also known for both Original and Cumulative Prospect Theory. These theories have been under fire for a while, but are good reads from a more contextual perspective. The literature sections also do good reviews of the work on risky decision making at the time! Moving onto the next Nobel winner: Thaler. My favourite papers by him are about Mental Accounting (that’s my field) and applications of Nudge, with a favourite of course being SMarT (Save More Tomorrow). It’s even possible that the greats combine forces! What you get then is a great paper on “Anomalies”. The paper discusses the Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias, and is by Kahneman, Knetsch and Thaler. From past Nobel Prize winners to hopefully future winners: Loewenstein and Camerer. Let’s start with George who wrote key papers in the field, ranging from the effect of emotions, affect and visceral stimuli on decision making, to intertemporal discounting and predicting future states, to curiosity, truth telling and the neural systems underlying these processes. The latter paper was cowritten with Colin, who wrote key papers on neuroeconomics, trust management, overconfidence, social behaviour, and AI. This paper they even wrote together iterating the importance of studying neuroscience alongside economic decision-making (neuroeconomics). Two things have to be mentioned: 1. They did this amazing work alongside absolutely amazing co-authors who deserve equal credit for the papers with their name on it. And 2. Both of them have also written several books: Behavioral Game Theory, Advances in behavioral economics, Exotic Preferences, Intertemporal Choice. Although these books are also great, if you’d want an academic book to introduce you to behavioural science, or behavioural economics, I’d rather recommend you check out “A Course in Behavioral Economics” by Erik Angner. Last, to get away from people and get back to just amazing papers, you will need to read up on some of the most fundamental theories in behavioural science, including, but not limited to, COM-B, PRIME, MINDSPACE and FORGOOD. If you’d want me to recommend you some more papers in a specific realm (e.g. behavioural science health interventions) please let me know. There are a lot of academics who do great work in more specialized areas. The reason they’re not named here is because I wanted most of these resources to be of an introductory level, which I do not deem most specializations as!

 

Now I started out thinking I’d write this as a single post and just bombard you with resources. However, this post is getting abnormally long, so I think this is where I’m going to call quits, for NOW. Stay tuned for next week’s post, where I’ll dive into some more amazing resources to help you get started, or further acquainted, with behavioural science. Be prepared for some awesome podcast, newsletter and blog recommendations. And potentially some great white papers; papers from the applied space rather than the academic space. More