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The Best Books On Behaviour Change

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

Behaviour Change is one of the hot topics of this century. Ever since Daniel Kahneman won a Noble Prize in 2002, there have been a lot of books on the subject in the popular (as opposed to academic) media. In this post I will review the books that I think are the best of them, especially for a reader who has little or no exposure to this field.

Behaviour Change is not the only name for this emerging field. There are several other names like Choice Architecture, Nudge Theory, Prospect Theory, Behavioural Economics etc that also describe the subject. Changing behaviour is the end result, while the theory behind how to change behaviour is what these books are all about.

This is the book that made the science famous and it is written by one of the two people who invented it (The other was Amos Tversky, but he died early and so did not get the Noble Prize). Prof Kahneman’s book is an authoritative work and should be read at some stage, but I don’t think this should be the first book you read on the subject. It is written by an academic and therefore is not an easy read. Having said that, do come back to it at some stage, since it goes deeper into the subject than some of the other books mentioned here.

Michael Lewis is a best selling writer and all his books are extremely readable. This is the book I recommend you start with. This book is about the friendship between Kahneman and Tversky and describes the process by which they came up with their ideas and how they managed to get the world to notice them. Mr Lewis does a more than competent job of introducing the science and so one comes away with a fairly good understanding of it. This book is highly recommended, even if you don’t want to read any other book on this subject.

Misbehaving and Nudge by Richard Thaler

The next person to win a Noble Prize in this field was Dr Richard Thaler. He was an economist who didn’t really like economics. He happened to meet Dr Kahneman and that lead to magic. Kahneman and Tversky were psychologists and therefore their work focused more on understanding the human mind rather than the practical applications of their theory. Dr Thaler took their theories and applied it to Economics. Thus he created the field of Behavioural Economics and that is what he won the Noble Prize for.

There are two books by Dr Thaler in my top 10. Nudge (in collaboration with Cass Sunstein) is the more famous book and has achieved iconic status. It is a good book and relevant if you are an economist or work on policy. However, I found Misbehaviour more interesting since it takes you on a journey through the development of Dr Thaler’s ideas.

What is it with Israelis and this science? Kahneman and Tversky were Israelis and so is Dan Ariely. He is easily the most entertaining writer and speaker in this field. He has written several books, but Predictably Irrational continues to be my favourite. Dr Ariely has given several TED talks, he has a YouTube channel and used to do a podcast. So if you prefer video and audio to reading books then head on to those links.

Another great speaker and writer is Sheena Iyengar. Dr Iyengar has an inspiring back story. She was born in Canada to Sikh parents who had migrated from Delhi. She started to go blind when she was just nine years old and was completely blind by the age of sixteen. Meanwhile her father had passed away when she was thirteen. In spite of these difficulties, she did her graduation in Economics from Wharton and her PhD from Stanford University. She currently teaches in Columbia University, after having been a part of the faculty at Sloan School in MIT earlier. Isn’t that just amazing?

Watch TED talks and other interviews given by Dr Iyengar and you will see her sense of humour and how she doesn’t take herself too seriously. This may be a trait of gurus in this field, because Dr Ariely is also like that.

Sheena Iyengar’s book helps us understand why we get attracted by more choice, but find it difficult to take a decision when confronted with choices. She also explores choice in different cultures and ends up prescribing how choice should be offered so as to make it easier for people to actually choose.

Cass Sunstein is famous for being the co-author of Nudge with Dr Thaler. He was also head of the American government’s Nudge unit under President Barrack Obama.

Dr Sunstein focuses on an issue that I get asked a lot. Is Nudge Theory ethical? In other words, is it okay to nudge people into taking a decision or should we just step back and let people have the freedom to decide whatever they want. Dr Sunstein makes a very convincing case for why it is ethical to use Nudge Theory.

I loved this book because it takes the science into the personal space. It provides tips on how individuals can change their own habits or those of their loved ones. I guess this is the most practical of the books on behaviour change in this list.

So there you are then. My top books on the subject of behaviour change. Do let me know your thoughts on these and also if you would like to propose another book in this list.

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3 comentarios

Bhavin Kariya
Bhavin Kariya
20 nov 2021

good list, will read them

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Sanjeev Roy
Sanjeev Roy
19 nov 2021

Very good list Suman. I have the same ethical problem with 'Nudge' that a lot of other people do. You can see where it can go by just looking around our country. It's a bit like nuclear fission, can make electricity or a bomb.

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Miembro desconocido
19 nov 2021
Contestando a

Yes, it is a tool that you can use for good or evil. But do read Cass Sunstein’s book. He talks about three scenarios in which Nudge Theory can be used. In two of them, there is no conflict with ethics. And the third turns out to be ambiguous. Pretty interesting.

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