best-books-to-Understand-Human-Behavior

The 10 Most Important Psychology Books to Understand Human Behavior

One of the most important ideas of the field of psychology, yet extremely undervalued, is that you can understand human behavior. If you’re reading psychology books mainly to improve your decision-making skills. Or because you want to persuade others to buy more of your deodorant. You’re not getting the full benefits from these books. The main goal, I believe, should be to understand why people do what they do. Why we spend money like crazy on things we don’t need, but we are cheap when it comes to supporting a noble cause.

Here, in this post, we’re going to observe some of the best books that will help you decipher the seemingly unsolvable puzzle of the human mind – i.e. understand human behavior.

Why is this important you may ask?

Plainly, you’ll construct a richer demographic of the possible types of behavior. Once this type of knowledge is inserted into your brain, you’ll easily spot, translate, and properly assess all verbal and nonverbal cues transmitted from the people standing next to you. You’ll adopt a high level of self-awareness regardless of your surroundings. With this, you’ll properly read others. Form friendships, understand what motives the ones around you, and even find loopholes in people’s reasoning which you can later exploit. Yes, sounds kind of nasty, but sometimes it’s necessary to mold the behavior of others to your liking.

Even though to some, it might seem that reading books about human behavior is mainly for business owners who want to take advantage of the average person. Get him to become crazily obsessed with what he’s selling. Or, someone looking for more ways to monopolize others. I believe everyone should read more books on human behavior. Understanding how we act is a great way to become more empathetic. Improve your listening skills which will lead to becoming a better parent, husband, teacher, friend, and even politician. 

Reading books on human behavior is like reading an instruction manual on how to properly use your toaster, for example. You understand what can trigger certain actions and what type of “buttons” can prevent the machinery from burning. And while we’re more sophisticated than electrical equipment used to toast bread. We surely need to read that manual.

It’s a vast subject. But it’s extremely useful to study as it allows you to understand something we all experience daily – communication with fellow humans.

10 of The Best Psychology Books to Understand Human Behavior:

1. Social Engineering by Christopher Hadnagy

Social Engineering by Christopher Hadnagy book cover

What’s the book about?

The best way to understand human behavior? Get to know how people try to manipulate others. In this book, Christopher Hadnagy is peaking behind the curtains. Social Engineering is presenting the tricks hackers use to get your password. To steal your identity and to make you do things you don’t want to do, but you don’t yet understand that are bad for you.

Who is it for?

Information security experts will surely find this read helpful. But it’s also for people who can be labeled as newbies in the computer world. Even if you’re not regularly using a computer, it’s important to understand what methods the people who design the systems we daily use implement in the software to manipulate our behavior, both online and offline.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“I found afterward that not only did I become much more aware of what was going on with those around me, but also myself. When I felt a certain expression on my face, I was able to analyze it and see how it might be portrayed to others. This recognition of myself and my surroundings was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life.” Christopher Hadnagy

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2. The Lucifer Effect by Philip G. Zimbardo

The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo book cover

What’s the book about?

From the creator of the “Stanford Prison Experiment,” Philip Zimbardo, this book investigates what type of mind tricks force good people to start doing bad things. In short, this book is a detailed overview of the said experiment – you probably heard of it, average people placed in a prison-like environment and were divided into two groups, guards and prisoners. The Lucifer Effect explains why people derive their sense of identity from their immediate surroundings. Not from within themselves.

Who is it for?

Psychology students will surely find this reading fascinating, but not only. The Stanford Prison Experiment is one of a kind. Besides, it’s something we’ll probably never see happening again in the future. It presents how our identities change when we are in different social dynamics. How good people can become violent and unethical, and what we can do to prevent ourselves from turning into a dangerously brutal person.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Our sense of identity is in large measure conferred on us by others in the ways they treat or mistreat us, recognize or ignore us, praise us or punish us. Some people make us timid and shy; others elicit our sex appeal and dominance. In some groups we are made leaders, while in others we are reduced to being followers. We come to live up to or down to the expectations others have of us. The expectations of others often become self-fulfilling prophecies. Without realizing it, we often behave in ways that confirm the beliefs others have about us. Those subjective beliefs create new realities for us. We often become who other people think we are, in their eyes and in our behavior.” Philip G. Zimbardo

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3. Games People Play by Eric Berne

Games People Play by Eric Berne book cover

What’s the book about?

We all play games. But I’m not talking about board games. And surely not video games. This book uncovers the social games we all play in our day-to-day lives. Labeled as explosive when the book first appeared on the shelves, Games People Play is one of the most influential psychology books about understanding social interactions. The text is condensed with examples of “mind games” where Eric Berne explores the patterns we use in our daily communications with others.

Who is it for?

Probably everyone who is interested in understanding how the people around him/her are trying to trick them. The games we play according to the author consist of a series of interactions which are then followed by an emotional payoff. And while a lot of the games we play with the surrounding people are harmless. They can easily turn into a race to the bottom – lawyers, courts, calling the police. It solely depends on how serious people are playing the social game.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Awareness requires living in the here and now, and not in the elsewhere, the past or the future.” Eric Berne

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4. Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman

Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman book cover

What’s the book about?

What type of emotions different thoughts or actions trigger in us? How can we stop the destructing feelings and focus mainly on positive stuff? With this book, Paul Ekman wants to help us understand the science behind our emotions. How can we control them better and how to notice the difference between a genuine smile and an “I want you to make what I say” smile.

Who is it for?

People interested in understanding what are the universal emotions – the ones we all experience. Also, for people who want to read others better. The practical examples in the text will help you recognize the most common facial cues and teach yourself how to respond to them properly in a social situation.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Emotions change how we see the world and how we interpret the actions of others. We do not seek to challenge why we are feeling a particular emotion; instead, we seek to confirm it.” Paul Ekman

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5. NLP: The Essential Guide by Tom Hoobyar

NLP The Essential Guide by Tom Hoobyar book cover

What’s the book about?

The now-famous psychological approach of NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) has helped millions of people to overcome their fears, cope with traumatic events, boost their confidence, and reach new heights in their personal and professional lives. This book covers the most important NLP techniques presented by master coaches. NLP: The Essential Guide is a foundational guide explaining the process of human thought.

Who is it for?

For beginners of the field of NLP. People who are interested in influencing the social dynamics and understanding how the mind is viewing and processing information. The techniques are both great for people who want to convert others into believing what they are saying, and also handy if you want to adopt a positive outlook on life.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“A man who has control over his mind is able to realize its full potential.” The Sama Veda

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6. Drive by Daniel H. Pink

Drive by Daniel Pink book cover

What’s the book about?

This provocative book explains that rewards like money and the famous carrot-and-stick approach are not good enough to create a healthy working environment. Daniel Pink wants to showcase to leaders that boosting performance at work and in life is not only about getting a good salary. It’s mainly about creating an environment where meaningful work is done.

Who is it for?

People looking for ways to upgrade their reward system – whether this is at work or in their personal lives when educating their children. The book explores three essential elements (Autonomy; Mastery; Purpose) that will encourage you to create a better workplace for your employees and yourself.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” Daniel Pink

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7. The Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler

The Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler book cover

What’s the book about?

Our unconscious motives drive our behavior. Sadly, we don’t quite realize this. We delude ourselves into thinking that we are doing good things for others, while we are actually mainly concerned with winning our own games. The Elephant in the Brain reveals our true desires behind our everyday actions. The text is structured to help us spot the same hidden cravings in the surrounding people. The revelations shared by Kevin Simler will make you question your best friends.

Who is it for?

This surprisingly accessible and easy-to-get book is a must-read for everyone interested in understanding the real motivations behind our actions. The metaphor used – the elephant in the brain – means that there is a big part of our brain that is focused only on getting what we want, but we never reveal that fact. We hide it. The book illustrates that there is always a hidden motive behind all of our good deeds. Everything we do, is directed towards making our lives better, even if we state that we are simply trying to “help others.”

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Learn—because it’s not the knowledge itself that’s as important as showing that you have the generic ability to learn and complete schoolwork. Signaling also explains the sheepskin effect, where actually earning a diploma is more valuable than the individual years of learning that went into it—because employers prefer workers who stick around and finish what they start.” Kevin Simler

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8. Evil by Roy F. Baumeister

Evil by Roy Baumeister book cover

What’s the book about?

Why evil people are, well, evil? What encourages bad behavior? How is wickedness formed in the brain? Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty by Roy F. Baumeister aims to answer these questions. The book will help you understand what’s the viewpoint of a sinful person and give you a unique perspective in his attempts to do harm. All of this knowledge, preparing you for the evilness we’ll surely encounter.

Who is it for?

People who simply can’t understand why evil people do harm to others. What type of emotions trigger wrongdoings and what is happening in the brain of someone who is hurting fellow humans. If you want to understand how perpetrators view themselves, this title is among the very best places to start.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“Most people who perpetrate evil do not see what they are doing as evil. Evil exists primarily in the eye of the beholder, especially in the eye of the victim.” Roy F. Baumeister

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9. A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume

A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume book cover

What’s the book about?

An ancient artifact that presents a groundbreaking study of human nature. David Hume, a famous Scottish historian, philosopher, and essayist, wants to showcase the nature of humans in a new light. The book will probably disrupt your well-established beliefs about the world. It can even upset your meaning-making mechanism. All of this is a good thing. A Treatise of Human Nature talks about many things related to human nature. All of which important.

Who is it for?

When Immanuel Kant read this book, he famously said, “I was awoken from my dogmatic slumber.” If you, too, want to wake up and see the world as it is, check this book. While written more than 250 years ago, the book offers more insights about today’s world than all other titles combined.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception…” David Hume

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10. The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene

The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene book cover

What’s the book about?

The best-selling author of power, Robert Greene, created the bible for human nature. This book is a masterpiece. Sold millions of copies, The Laws of Human Nature will help you master your emotions. Peak behind the social masks other people wear. Develop the skills you need to influence people and also shield yourself from the same things others try to impose on you. This is more than a how-to guide on human behavior. The book can be described as an encyclopedia that tracks down how history’s most famous tacticians were able to conquer hearts and nations.

Who is it for?

Do you want to spot the flaws in the surrounding people? Do you want to push others in directions that are both good for them and you? The Laws of Human nature was designed to make you master strategies. The tactics shared will help you influence others without them realizing this. Prevent yourself from worshiping power-driven egoists and make them worship you. Yes, it might sound that you’ll become a dark Sith Lord after finishing this book (you might!) but it’s also a great read if you want to motivate yourself and your peers.

Thought-Provoking Quote:

“You like to imagine yourself in control of your fate, consciously planning the course of your life as best you can. But you are largely unaware of how deeply your emotions dominate you. They make you veer toward ideas that soothe your ego. They make you look for evidence that confirms what you already want to believe. They make you see what you want to see, depending on your mood, and this disconnect from reality is the source of the bad decisions and negative patterns that haunt your life.” Robert Greene

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Some Closing Thoughts

Some years ago I had the unusual opportunity to read the book Influence by Robert Cialdini – one of the best psychology books ever written. I was 20 at the time. Back then, I didn’t realize this. But this book sparked an ever-growing hunger for books in the field of psychology. I wasn’t only interested in knowing how to read others and spot how they respond to internal and external stimuli. I was also interested in understanding why I do what I do.

Regardless of the industry you’re in. The more you understand how people think and behave, the better.

Parents reading psychology books can better prepare for the tough dialogues they have to have with their children. Entrepreneurs starting a business will better position their product in the eyes of others. Leaders in organizations will unravel what motivates their colleagues and help them reach peak performance. Accountants who are sick of filling spreadsheets will spot what exactly in their day-to-day work is making them resent their work.

Above all, uncovering the hidden traits in human behavior will make you a more earthly human being. More understanding and more compassionate. Qualities we need more of.

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