The 11 Best Psychology, Persuasion, and Usability Books You Should Read

NOTE: This blog post was written in 2009. I have a new list of books at a newer blog post.

I love to read. I read fiction and history and psychology… I’m an avid reader. Which means when I give talks on psychology, usability, user experience, or my book, Neuro Web Design,  I often say, “Oh, there’s this great book…” and people then ask me for my “favorite books” list. I always tell them I’ll put one together, and then I never do. Well, here’s a start. Some of these are my favorites, and others I take issue with, but I still think you might want to read. I do have an Amazon affiliate account, so I’ve included a link to each book after the description if you are interested in purchasing or just getting more info.

How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer, 2009 – This is my favorite book on the topic of decision-making. It came out after I wrote my book (Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?) or I would have quoted him many times in my book. It’s a small book, and has lots of research in it, but it is quite readable. Highly recommended if you want to understand the how and why of human decision-making.

Strangers to Ourselves: The Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy Wilson, 2004 – This is the book that actually got me started seriously on the topic of the unconscious. I had read Blink (Malcolm Gladwell) and although that was an interesting book, I wanted more depth and detail. Gladwell referenced Wilson’s book so I started reading it and light bulbs went off for me. This one is a bit more academic and psychological, especially the first few chapters, but all in all, a great book with lots of interesting insights and strong research.

Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert, 2007 – This is a fun read. I don’t think it’s really about Happiness, so I don’t totally understand the title. To me it’s mainly about memory of the past, and anticipation about the future, and the research on how accurate or inaccurate we are about both past and future. It’s full of fascinating research, but is written in a very readable way.

Neuro Marketing:  Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain, by Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin – This book is short and easy to read. It applies some of the latest neuro psychology work specifically to marketing and sales. A good book to give to someone who wants an overview without all the research details. A nice concise and quick read that will orient you to the neuro marketing mindset, and give you some quick tips about more effective marketing and selling.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini, 2006 – This is a newer version of the original book that came out several years ago. This book is the “granddaddy” of all the other books on the topic. A very worthwhile read. Interesting too, because at the time he originally wrote this book each chapter had a section on how to RESIST the persuasive techniques. He wasn’t a proponent of using them; he wanted you to know about them so you wouldn’t fall prey. He did a turn-around on that mindset for his subsequent book that I talk about next. Continue reading “The 11 Best Psychology, Persuasion, and Usability Books You Should Read”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #8 — Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information

iphone with text message
Does the unpredictability of a text message trigger dopamine release?

Do you ever feel like you are addicted to email or twitter or texting? Do you find it impossible to ignore your email if you see that there are messages in your inbox? Have you ever gone to Google to look up some information and 30 minutes later you realize that you’ve been reading and linking, and searching around for a long time, and you are now searching for something totally different than before? These are all examples of your dopamine system at work.

Enter dopamine — Neuro scientists have been studying what they call the dopamine system for a while. Dopamine was “discovered” in 1958 by Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp at the National Heart Institute of Sweden. Dopamine is created in various parts of the brain and is critical in all sorts of brain functions, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, and motivation, seeking and reward.

The myth — You may have heard that dopamine controls the “pleasure” systems of the brain: that dopamine makes you feel enjoyment, pleasure, and therefore motivates you to seek out certain behaviors, such as food, sex, and drugs.

It’s all about seeking — The latest research, though is changing this view. Instead of dopamine causing us to experience pleasure, the latest research shows that dopamine causes seeking behavior. Dopamine causes us to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases our general level of arousal and our goal-directed behavior. (From an evolutionary stand-point this is critical. The dopamine seeking system keeps us motivated to move through our world, learn, and survive). It’s not just about physical needs such as food, or sex, but also about abstract concepts. Dopamine makes us curious about ideas and fuels our searching for information. The latest research shows that it is the opioid system (separate from dopamine) that makes us feel pleasure. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #8 — Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information”

100 Things You Should Know about People: #5 — You Make Most of Your Decisions Unconsciously

You are thinking of buying a TV. You do some research on what TV to buy and then you go online to purchase one. What factors are involved in this decision making process?

It’s not what you think — I cover this topic in my book Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? You like to think that when you make a decision you have carefully and logically weighed all the relevant factors. In the case of the TV, you have considered the size of TV that works best in your room, the brand that you have read is the most reliable, the competitive price, whether you should get blu-ray, etc etc. But the research on decision-making, especially the recent research, shows that although you want to think that your decision-making is a conscious, deliberate process, it’s not. Most decisions are made through unconscious mental processing.

Unconscious decision-making includes factors such as:

What are most other people buying (social validation): “I see that a particular TV got high ratings and reviews at the website”

What will make me stay consistent in my persona (commitment): “I’m the kind of person that always has the latest thing, the newest technology.”

Do I have any obligations or social debts that I can pay off with this purchase (reciprocity): “My brother has had me over to his house all year to watch the games, I think it’s time we had them over to our place to watch”

and on and on.

Don’t Confuse Unconscious with Irrational or Bad. I take exception with Dan Ariely and his book, Predictably Irrational. Most of our mental processing is unconscious, and most of our decision-making is unconscious, but that doesn’t mean it’s faulty, irrational or bad. We are faced with an overwhelming amount of data (11,000,000 pieces of data come into the brain every second!) and our conscious minds can’t process all of that. Our unconscious has evolved to process most of the data and to make decisions for us according to guidelines and rules of thumb that are in our best interest most of the time. This is the genesis of “trusting your gut”, and most of the time it works!

So What To Do? — The next step is to think about what this means for people who design things like websites, where you are providing information and/or engaging customers to make a decision. This is, of course, the topic of my book, but let’s hear from you. If we know that people are making decisions unconsciously, rather than consciously, what are some strategies we should employ at the website to encourage them to engage?

And for those of you who like to read, great books on this topic are:

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer — The BEST book on the topic of decision-making in general.

Strangers to Ourselves: The adaptive unconscious by Timothy Wilson — A little bit more academic, but still a great book.

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

and of course

Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?


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5 Steps to More Creativity Using Brain Science

Want to be more creative? Whether you are an artist, writer, scientist, web designer, marketer, sales person or business executive, being more creative means you’ll come up with more and better ideas and have more fun while you are doing it.

If you want to have more creative ideas you need to work with, not against, the part of your brain that comes up with ideas: the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain focuses on finding answers and solutions. It combines separate ideas from the rest of your brain and makes connections between them. But the pre-frontal cortex has some interesting and idiosyncratic ways of working, so there are things you can do that help it do its work, and things that hinder. Below are 5 things you can do to help the pre-frontal cortex, and thereby help you be more creative:

1.Find “your spot” and go there: In order for the pre-frontal cortex to connect up different ideas in your brain, and come up with that great creative idea, it has to be quiet, still, focused and not distracted. This means you have to be doing an activity that does not require much conscious thought. Everyone has a certain activity/place that is where they get their most creative ideas. For me it is water… if I am in the shower, or washing dishes, or swimming laps my mind kind of “spaces out” and then all these creative ideas pop in. For some people it is when they are going for a walk, for others when they are gardening, or in bed about to fall asleep… Figure out the activity/spot where your creative ideas come to you and then make sure you do that activity regularly.

2. Forget about it: In order for the pre-frontal cortex to work you have to consciously forget about the “thing” that you are trying to be creative about… So if you are trying to solve a business problem, come up with a new design for a web page, or decide what to write in your blog, the best thing to do is to forget about it entirely. This allows time for your pre-frontal cortex to go combing around your brain for ideas. If you stay focused on the question and keep mind chatter going on about it, then the pre-frontal cortex will be too distracted to go solve the problem.

3. Give yourself time: You will need to be patient. You will need the time to forget. So give yourself enough “elapsed” time… you will need at least a couple of hours and sometimes days or weeks to come up with creative ideas. The more you let go and the more you go to your “spot” the faster the creative process will happen. Similarly, if you want others to come up with creative ideas you can’t just say, “Quick, I need an idea about XXX!” and expect them to have a good answer. The pre-frontal cortex needs time.

4. Work with others: Multiple pre-frontal cortices are better than one! Give the whole team the problem or issue you are trying to solve, then let each person (each pre-frontal cortex) have time to work on it alone. Then bring the team together and let them share their ideas. And then take some more time to let the pre-frontal cortex absorb the ideas from the group. Then bring the team back and you will have some truly great creative solutions.

5. Act on your ideas: When I’m in the shower I get some really great ideas. The trick is getting them written down as soon as I get dried off! and then acting on them. Don’t forget to follow through.

P.S. I had the idea for this blog on creativity… you guessed it, in the shower!

Photo: Creative Commons,