Best Social Psychology Books

June 2, 2016


5/17/13 3:39 PMThe 50 Best

book coverReading good books remains the supreme “life hack”—knowledge that often took years to assemble can be consumed in mere hours.

I can’t think of a single better way to empower your learning (and yourself) than that. And as a professional, executive, or entrepreneur, the more you know about how people tick, the better.

The problem is that when looking for new reads, lists are often populated with books that everybody already knows about. How many more recommendations of Cialdini’s Influence do you need before you’re sick of seeing it?

As a voracious reader of brainy books on influence and persuasion (not limited to academic coverage), I thought I’d mix things up with a few underrated suggestions that you won’t see on most bookshelves.

1. The Person and the Situation

In my opinion, this is the best book Malcolm Gladwell’s name has been attached to. It’s one of the definitive works in social psychology, perhaps only eclipsed by Eliot Aronson’s The Social Animal.

The authors combine thorough, academic insights with highly relatable writing. An odd, but perhaps accurate, way to describe it is that it’s like a college textbook that you actually want to read!

The reviews seem overly positive, but frankly, they are warranted. One of my favorites:

“I felt that I had a better grasp of social psychology after reading this book than I did after taking a year of PhD level courses.” Buy the book

2. Yes! (50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive)

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book, but just be forewarned that this should be used as a complement to the other “meatier” entries on this list.

While the book is informative, the studies are glossed over pretty quickly and not much depth is given to any individual study. It does make for a great “rabbit hole” read: you’ll find out about a study, look up more about it, find more related studies, and “fall down the rabbit hole” searching for new material.

This is a great starting point to getting your feet wet in a variety of persuasion-related studies.

Buy the book

3. Creative Advertising

In this book, Pricken gives a step-by-step breakdown of effective ads, doing a wonderful job of explaining why these ads are so impactful. It might be the book I’ve recommended to marketers most often in the recent months.

book coverIt’s beautifully designed, and you’ll get a candid look at the ads themselves—oh, how I love when theory is thrown out the window in favor of real-world examples.

Buy the book

4. The Art of Human Hacking

The book has a somewhat antagonistic tone, but it fits with the subject matter. People are referred to as “victims” and the activities are defined as “exploits” and “attacks” because that is what is being analyzed.

But that shouldn’t dissuade you from reading it—it’s like watching those shows where a former thief shows the homeowners how easy it was to break into their house. Here, though, the lock-picking is substituted for human manipulation. This is not a book you read to copy specific methods; it’s one you read in order to understand.

Buy the book

5. The Psychology of Attitude Change and Social Influence

To sum up this book in a single phrase, I would call it a more academic Influence. It takes a very scholarly approach to the psychology of influence, but is perhaps a little bit less practical than Cialdini’s work.

For a true academic understanding of persuasion, though, this book is fantastic. It came highly recommended from a former professor of mine, and I’m glad I picked it up.

Buy the book

6. Fascinate

I’ll avoid the too awful pun of calling this book “fascinating.”

Here, Sally Hogshead explains how elements such as storytelling and modelling hold such a powerful influence, and she leaves readers with practical game plans to captivate attention.

I have two comments on Hogshead’s writing: the first is a slight critique, in that the book often tries to take established ideas and make them sound entirely new.

The second is full of praise: you only want to title a book Fascinate if it’s a page-turner, and Sally’s writing will definitely hook you until the end.

Buy the book

book cover7. Numbers Rule Your World

This book is probably the most unique of all of the books I’m recommending here.

It straddles statistics, persuasion, and psychology, and through clear writing, addresses what could be an incredibly boring topic for some readers (the application of statistics and how they affect you) and turns it into a really easy read.

I approached this book expecting to slowly crawl through it, but there are a ton of great examples and Fung does an enviable job of using stories to get his points across.

Whether you’re a “numbers guy” (or gal) or just want to take a layman’s look at statistics and their involvement in current affairs, this book is one you’ll enjoy.

Buy the book

8. Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain

This is one of the best beginner books for those interested in neuromarketing, in addition to Roger Dooley’s Brainfluence.

Two things to consider: the book is a very easy read; studies are not cited in-depth and the content can be easily consumed. However, if you’re not new to this space, the coverage may be too simplistic.

If you’re looking for an introduction and you haven’t read the perennial classics like Influence yet (there’s one more reference for you), this makes for a solid read.

Buy the book

9. The Advertised Mind

This book is not an easy read. That being said, it is a rewarding one if you can make it through.

Du Plessis makes compelling arguments and often delves into philosophical territories—not for the faint of heart, to be certain!

However, this is incredibly sharp coverage of the intersection between neuroscience and advertising.

One reviewer called it the book where “cognitive science meets Madison Avenue”—a fitting description that actually reveals quite a lot of what you’re about to get into.

Buy the book

10. Brandwashed

This is one of those intriguing crosses between understanding marketing to utilize it for your entrepreneurial endeavors and simply understanding how brands try to persuade you.

Some of the examples aren’t so mind-blowing (grocery stores using crates to make fruit seem “farm-fresh”), but others are really interesting.

I wish Lindstrom had done a bit more analysis on each study, as he seems to just take each at face value. That being said, the studies cited are genuinely interesting and very revealing in how easy it is for marketers to trick us (for shame!).

Buy the book

11. The Compass of Pleasure

Get a load of this subtitle:

How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good

This is a methodical, academic approach to answering questions like why cigarettes are so addictive or how dopamine can turn some minds into slaves for pleasure.

Though the book is pitched as a guide to understanding the nature of addiction, one will walk away with a general understanding of persuasion and habit-forming products.

Buy the book

12. The Buying Brain

There is another book by Lindstrom called Buyology that often comes highly recommended when discussing books of this ilk, but I would say that you should skip that book and get this one instead.

Pradeep creates a great overview of the emerging neuromarketing space and does so with a lot of good concrete examples.

I enjoyed that specifically because many books simply cite the research at hand; as a guy who regularly reads research papers, I appreciate the exposure to new research, but I could have just read it myself.

This book avoids that by taking the extra step through potential methods of implementation; loathe though I am to call things “actionable, ” it’s appropriate in this instance.

Buy the book
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