‘Off piste’ student reading

For psychology students, the start of the new term brings reading lists containing a wealth of essential, core and recommended reading. While lecturers recommend textbooks and books to support your course or specific modules, we know that many students read a variety of books that stimulate their personal interest and provide them with extra insights into psychology.

The Psychologist books team surveyed a sample of psychology students to find out what they were reading that might to support their interests and studies. From the responses, we’ve compiled a list of 10 books that new and existing students might enjoy and benefit from reading while studying psychology. The students we surveyed kindly provided a brief statement about why the book they selected was one of their favourites and why they’d recommend it. And below, we also hear from Jenna Gillett in more detail about her choice, Stumbling On Happiness.

We’d like to thank all of those who participated in our survey, and welcome any book suggestions for next year’s students. Get involved in the discussion on Twitter @psychmag.

Rebecca Stack and Emily Hutchinson, Associate Editors: Books

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen is an autobiographical account of the author’s time in a teenage psychiatric award in 1967. Our student recommender said: ‘Girl, Interrupted was the first book which introduced me to the world of mental health and, in turn, the field of psychology. I was captivated and instantly wanted to learn more, hence why I am now studying psychology. Such a personal account always strengthens the reality of mental illnesses and the need for us to understand them more deeply.’

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison is a memoir of the lived experience of manic-depression written from the perspective of an author pursuing an academic career while also managing the condition. Our student recommender said: ‘An Unquiet Mind is my favourite book as it is a real-life example of the detrimental effects of Type 1 bipolar disorder and the positive effects of lithium, as well as showing that mental health issues do not necessarily need to limit someone in terms of their aspirations, in this case in clinical psychology.’

Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being – and How to Achieve Them by Martin Seligman continues to build on research in the field of positive psychology, translating theory into practice to describe how to get the best out of life. Our student recommender said: Flourish is currently my favourite, it combines psychology with general life wellbeing /happiness tips.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg encourages women in the workplace to be courageous and proactive in pushing themselves forward and not holding back. Our student recommender said: ‘Lean In, because it defines the importance of women and their roles. How to manage your home, work life, and education. Its essential to have a positive and hopeful mindset to succeed in life.’

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre highlights how ‘scientific data’ can be generated and interpreted to mislead and to support a preconceived argument. He uses well-known examples where the data has been manipulated to support a conclusion, rather than conclusions following from rigorous and objective research. Our student recommender said: ‘Psychologists must be good at critically evaluating evidence. This book helps you understand why that matters and teaches you the basics of how to do it in a wonderfully readable, relevant, snarky style!’

Communication Under the Microscope: The Theory and Practice of Microanalysis by Peter Bull highlights how central communication is to our everyday life, and hence how important it is as an area of study. It also introduces the research method of microanalysis and how that can then be applied to reveal how and why we communicate. Our student recommender said: ‘The perfect companion for the study of social interaction – both verbal and non-verbal.’

Forty Studies That Changed Psychology by Roger Hock provides summaries of the thinking and theories behind significant psychology research. Our student recommender said: ‘Forty studies that changed psychology is a great read for any student about to start a psychology course or anyone with a passing interest in psychology. Each of the studies is expertly summarised, making them easily digestible over a cup of tea. From Asch to Zimbardo, Hock has selected key research by many of psychology’s “big hitters”. Easy reading and thoroughly recommended.

Basic Vision: An Introduction to Visual Perception by Robert Snowden describes the way that our brain ‘sees’ and interprets visual information. Our student recommender said: ‘Bob is a fantastic lecturer and a captivating writer, I have never understood things so clearly, and he writes in a chatty, accessible manner.’

The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk describes how trauma can be transformed by approaches that regulate and sync body and mind. Our student recommender said: ‘The Body Keeps the Score provides information from both empirical research and clinical experience to explain the nuances of trauma. It discusses biological and social components and discusses the options for treatment in a clear,
easy-to-digest way.’

Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind by David Buss gives a different perspective on human nature and why we do what we do. Our student recommender said: ‘I’ve found Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind by David Buss the most useful book that wasn’t on any suggested reading list… If you’re really being honest with yourself, some of the mating strategies of animals will sound eerily familiar and make you laugh out on occasion too.’

Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
‘Psychology has created problems where once there were none by exposing the flaws in our intuitive understandings of ourselves’ (Ch 3, pp.69). In this 2006 book, Gilbert perfectly outlines one of the core properties central to psychology as a discipline; a lot of the time what we think is right, logical and probable is actually not! Often we fail to fully understand ourselves – be it our imaginations, motivations, emotions, memories or behaviours. Psychology aims to understand the complexity and interactions of these phenomena and how they cause us to think how we think and do what we do.

This book provides a brilliantly comical take on how we perceive ‘happiness’ and underpins a variety of constructs that explain some of the strange behaviours we often demonstrate in everyday life. With some fascinating examples from experimental studies, Gilbert explores some of the weird and wonderful aspects of day-to-day scenarios: why do we often forestall pleasurable experiences? Why do people imagine near-future pain as so severe they pay money to avoid it, but will accept the same amount of money to endure a far-future pain? Why do people regret inactions more than actions? Why do we underestimate our happiness on a Monday morning? These are some of the weird and seemingly illogical behaviours we are all guilty of – but why? (Read the book to find out!)

Stumbling on Happiness is an excellent book for any undergraduate embarking on a psychology course. The book highlights a dynamic array of interesting studies drawing on the bounds of human perception, memory, cognition, social dynamics, health psychology, biological psychology… the list goes on! All the literature mentioned is superb supplemental material to any first-year psychology course content and will help put theories into everyday, relatable examples for better understanding and captivating reading.

We live in a world where everyone’s number one goal is ‘to be happy’ but, as Gilbert demonstrates, we are somewhat useless at predicting what makes us happy in comparison to what actually makes us happy. What we perceive as ‘happiness’ is dependent on so many factors we often fail to recognise ‘happiness’ when it is happening; only in retrospect do we properly ascertain it. This book really gets you thinking and wanting to find out more – a highly recommended read for anyone who is interested in ‘real life’ psychology with some fundamental lessons that are beneficial to any undergraduate student.

- Jenna Gillett, recent graduate of the University of Buckingham and PsyPAG undergraduate award winner 2017

Look out for 'The Psychologist Guide to University Life' with the October edition!

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