Best Reads in Behavioral Science
May 16, 2019 8:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for engaging reads, both books and longform articles, about how people can change their physical and mental habits.

In particular, I'm curious about two questions:
1) What motivates people to develop habits that are perceived as unpleasant or undesirable tasks with desirable outcomes, like flossing or homework?
2) What motivates people to change deeply-held beliefs? I know the backfire effect has been largely debunked, but that confirmation bias remains a very real thing. Are there ways to overcome it and be more aware of our own blind spots and knee-jerk reactions?

I've read Nudge by Sunstein and Thaler and I want more like this. I'm totally willing to read with a critical lens and in fact I take Nudge with a sizable grain of salt (particularly the latter chapters where the authors attempt to prove that behavioral nudges are a unifying theory of everything), but it turns out this topic interests me a lot.
posted by capricorn to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Having posted this I'd now add that I've also read and enjoyed Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal, in the same vein.
posted by capricorn at 8:14 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]

ooh, I love these topics. Here are some books I've enjoyed
- The Power of Habit
- Better Than Before
- Thinking, Fast and Slow (and anything else by Kahneman, honestly - he's a good writer and one of the biggest names in the field)

and one I haven't yet read
- Atomic Habits
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:04 PM on May 16 [4 favorites]

It is not specifically written to address the points you mention, but Influence: The Power of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini touches on a lot of the things you’re interested in. He doesn’t write specifically about how to change one’s own deeply held beliefs - but he discusses (with both personal and historical samples) how deeply held beliefs can (and have been) changed.

It’s a wonderful book that I’d recommend to anyone, but I think it would be of particular interest to you.
posted by doctor tough love at 3:04 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest Come as You Are by E. Nagoski. It opens with descriptions of psychological and social conditions then goes on to ways of changing deeply held beliefs and mental habits. It includes references to research. Also, it's about sex.
posted by bdc34 at 6:02 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

Check out B.J. Fogg and his Tiny Habits model. One of his key insights is that motivation follows action, not the other way around, which is why it's so important to set the bar low and get the easy wins. The book is not out yet, but lots to dig into on his websites.
posted by libraryhead at 6:19 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

I would recommend Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, by Caroll Tavris and Elliot Aronson. This book offers lots of examples of how people fail to change deeply-held beliefs. This is maybe not exactly what you requested in your question, but it's still relevant, I think. Also, it's very well written and entertaining (if sometimes infuriating).
posted by JD Sockinger at 7:32 AM on May 17

I have read all of the suggested books above, they're good, but Stick With It is absolutely the best book on #1 - the author works at UCLA and clearly explains that it's more than motivation, it's more than habits, there are psychological fallacies and cognitive distortions we have to overcome, and different kinds of behavior change require different approaches. For example, no amount of motivation alone will help you with an unconscious habit like nail-biting or smoking, but why? What should you do instead? The plan outlined in the book has been genuinely helpful for me.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:30 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

Cal Newport
posted by oceano at 1:51 PM on May 17

Came in to also say, "Atomic Habits" by James Clear. I've read maybe half of the books referenced in the thread and in your question. I found Atomic Habits to be the most practical of the genre. The author is heavily influenced by Duhigg's "The Power of Habit" and references it/builds on it. If you wanted to double down, you could read that pair - Power of Habit and Atomic Habits. Clear has made the rounds on lots of podcasts over the last year - the book came out in October of 2018 - so if you want to get a taste, you can pick any of his podcast appearances and listen to that episode to decide if you buy into his framework of habit change.
posted by kovacs at 4:20 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]

James Clear of Atomic Habits has a website, which covers a lot of material from his book, including this hub page for his articles about habits.
posted by Cozybee at 5:19 PM on May 19

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