Pop science books: decisions, happiness and the brain

Our unconscious plays a huge role in our decisions and actions in every-day life, and that’s nothing new. Now that neuroscientists have started looking at our conscious and subconscious self¬†there has been a new surge in books covering intuition, subconscious biases of choice, and how habits shape our life. Here we list some of the popular science books that represent state-of-the-art research into decision-making and choice. If you’re interested in more scientific appraisals of the topic, check out our Best textbooks in neuroeconomics.

1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

No list about decision-making and popular science books is complete without this one, already a classic so soon after publication. Nobel-prize winner Daniel Kahneman takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. If you want to read more about him, he also features on Edge.org.

2. Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath

As “Decisive” can help us make decisions more wisely and thoughtfully, it proves its worth over and over again. This is another hit by Chip and Dan Heath, and serves as a great resource for individuals, organizations, and would be an engaging college textbook, too.

3. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler

A great book on how to think about issues in life. When faced with a decision comprising many options, which is the best for you? How do you frame decisions? How do you help people to make decisions that will benefit them in the long run? Nudge explores how the small, unconscious cues in our environment can have huge impacts on our choices. Real eye-opener and hugely popular.

4. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

The role of the subconscious in even our most deliberate and conscious behavior is a fascinating topic, and Gladwell sets it up with some wonderful examples. Compared to Nudge, however, the book is a little too anecdotal. Nonetheless, it’s a light-hearted and very accessible book on the role of our subconscious.

5. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Not written by a scientist, but by the excellent business reporter Charles Duhigg. He visited neuroscience labs across the US to understand how habits form, and why they can provide the potential to enhance our behavior over time. The book discusses both the good habits and the bad ones, and is dressed up with examples more so than many other (more theoretical) books on the topic such as those in decision-making. A massive hit when it first came out, and still a must-read if you haven’t already.

6. The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain by Tali Sharot

An up-and-coming neuroscientist, Tali Sharot provides a very accessible introduction to her work on optimism and biases in human decision-making. Drawing on her experience in some of the best labs in the US, she provides an accurate and engaging account of her field. Great read! Some of her points are summarized in this TED talk.