5 Psychology Reads

Five psychology books I have enjoyed. There are many others, of course, and this list is in no particular order.

The Voices Within, Charles Fernyhough

I’ve been pretty much in awe of Fernyhough for more than a decade. He’s a writer (and professor of Psychology at Durham University) who is able to slide effortlessly from fiction to serious scientific exploration within a single heartbeat. His style of writing, certainly in Pieces of Light and The Baby in the Mirror, could almost fall within narrative non-fiction and, although there is an element of this in The Voices Within, the breadth of the topic leaves little room for self-reflection.

The Voices Within is an investigation into the workings of our inner voices; from the internalisation of speech to the silent narrative that often guides our behaviours. Drawing on topics as diverse as the literature of Virginia Woolf to those who hear voices even in the absence of psychopathology, Fernyhough takes the reader on a journey through psychology and neuroscience, from historical texts to classic studies and the latest brain imaging observations, in an attempt to piece together the story of the voices in our heads.

Drive, Daniel H. Pink

I’ve read this book a number of times and used it extensively to guide the chapters of two of my own books. Indeed, its key elements of mastery, autonomy and purpose can be found scattered around both The Emotional Learner and Psychology in the Classroom.

In Drive, Pink attempts to grapple with the problems of motivation and how the things we think motivate don’t always do their job. Moving beyond simple conditioning, away from so-called carrot and stick approaches, Drive looks at the role of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and why the former is often far superior to the latter.

Great Myths of the Brain, Christian Jarrett

Jarrett in a man with many hats. With a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience and a wealth of journalistic experience (including many years writing for The Psychologist and almost as long as the brains behind the celebrated Research Digest), he is certainly more than qualified to examine and debunk some of the more widely held beliefs of psychology and neuroscience.

With topics ranging from the defunct (thought resides in the heart) to what Jarrett calls the immortal myths (such as we only use ten percent of our brains), Great Myths of the Brain critically and expertly examines some of the beliefs that have became ingrained in our culture, including those more relevant to teaching, such as Brain Gym and brain training.

50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio and Barry L. Beyerstein

Another myth-busting extravaganza published five years before Great Myths of the Brain. Lilienfeld and his co-authors include enough diversity to warrant owning both these books, including the more widely held view that learning styles theory is highly erroneous (even though by the time this book was released it had been fairly clear for at least half a decade). There are some overlaps between the two books but I don’t think this matters too much (the ten percent myth is so ubiquitous that it needs to be shouted from the rooftop every time we watch Lucy or Limitless).

The Secret World of the Brain, Catherine Loveday.

I love this book, partly because it’s so easy to dip into and partly because it manages to balance text and engaging illustrations beautifully. Loveday is a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Westminster on a quest to open up the murky world of the brain to the general public, and I think this books certainly goes a long way towards fulfilling this.

From the developing brain and memory processes to why we cry when we watch films or laugh when we hear a joke, The Secret World of the Brain is both highly accessible and incredibly informative. Its layout is also great for younger readers who might be put of by denser text. I recommended it to a friend of mine who bought it as a present for her fifteen-year-old son. Needless to say, he loved it too.

Honourable mentions:

Quiet, Susan Cain

My Age of Anxiety, Scott Stossel

:59 Seconds, Richard Wiseman

The Tell-Tale Brain, V.S, Ramachandran


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