Good book on cognitive bias?
April 28, 2011 10:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a good introductory book on the topic of cognitive bias.

I've enjoyed various Wikipedia articles and blog posts, and now I'm looking for a good book or two. I'd be interested in something a little more formal than a purely popular treatment, but not as nitty-gritty as a collection of research articles. Is there a really solid introductory book out there? I'm not sure if this is necessarily a discrete field - maybe there's a book that deals with heuristics, decision-making, etc., generally?
posted by facetious to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You might like Irrationality by Sutherland, though possibly it's more "popular" than you were looking for. You may also find some good pointers to further reading on the Less Wrong wiki.
posted by philipy at 10:36 AM on April 28, 2011

This book edited by Cass Sunstein is probably too law-related for what you're looking for, but if you just read the introduction (by Sunstein), you'll get a very efficient synopsis of many biases and heuristics.

More readable books -- I don't know if these are too "popular" for you:

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Everything Is Obvious... by Duncan Watts

Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz

Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell is probably more economics/policy-oriented than you're looking for, but you might like the first chapter, which sets forth several general biases that interfere with clear thinking on policy issues.
posted by John Cohen at 10:45 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I saw a pretty interesting book in the bookstore last evening on that topic.

Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer

Besides that, your first stop is Wikipedia's for List of Cognitive Baises.
posted by jchaw at 10:45 AM on April 28, 2011

Really I don't think the Kahneman and Tversky stuff is so hard to read - even though they are the sort of collection of articles you expressly didn't want. Its not like other subjects where there is a big enough gap between the popular stuff and the scientific literature for there to be a class of "serious" non-academic books.

I'm not a psychologist, and have only an undergrad Econ/IR degree, and I didn't find them difficult to read at all.
posted by JPD at 11:00 AM on April 28, 2011

Two books that might fit your criteria are Nudge by the previously mentioned Cass Sunstein (along with Richard Thaler), and The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, by Leonard Mlodinow. Both of these books deal pretty heavily with heuristics and decision-making, although they focus on other themes, too. I found them to be a good balance of popular treatment and hard-core academia, but they are definitely more on the popular end of the spectrum. Both rely on and discuss some of the Kahneman and Tversky studies, IIRC.

Also, I haven't read it, but I've seen The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making mentioned on AskMe a number of times and would have read it by now if my library had a copy.
posted by crLLC at 11:02 AM on April 28, 2011

Response by poster: BTW should maybe clarify, I don't mean "popular" in a snooty-poop way, I just mean I'd rather struggle to keep up than get bored going too slow :-)

Totally appreciate the recs so far!
posted by facetious at 11:05 AM on April 28, 2011

It's too new for there to be books about it (AFAIK), but if you're interested in cognitive bias, you should check out error-management theory (link is to the manuscript version of an academic encyclopedia entry). It's an evolutionary-psychological theory of the purpose of cognitive bias. Spoiler: bias isn't irrational.
posted by amberwb at 1:39 PM on April 28, 2011

Best answer: Jonathan Baron's Thinking and Deciding has both maths and words! Don't let the boring cover fool you.
posted by gregglind at 4:45 PM on April 28, 2011

Best answer: One of the problems is that the field is distributed over a couple of different disciplines, and there are a couple of ideological positions which aren't necessarily consistent with one another. One book I'd recommend staying away from is Blink by Gladwell – it covers some of the territory, but with a weird sort of slant, and is quite incorrect in places.

IMO, the two most interesting ideological positions are that of Kahneman and Tversky (often called the "heuristics and biases" approach) and that of Gigerenzer (often called the "fast and frugal heuristics" approach). I don't really know of any good, easily approachable, modern books on the Kahneman and Tversky approach – some of the original early papers are very readable, but when they got into Prospect Theory it got a lot more dense.

Kahneman and Klien in American Psychologist 64(6) is actually a really good overview of a few aspects of the field, and where they're up to today, but I suspect it's firmly in paywall territory.

Simple heuristics that make us smart is actually a pretty approachable book on Gigerenzer's stuff. It's a collection of academic papers, essentially, but is still quite readable.

One area that also touches on it, which I personally don't know anything about, is behavioural economics. It wouldn't surprise me if there were books out there which take this approach to the subject, but I can't suggest any. Maybe others here can.
posted by damonism at 6:45 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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