Books about behavioural economics

The nudge unit in the Cabinet Office of the UK government has made dramatic improvements to the effectiveness and usability of government websites. They have also made progress in bringing an understanding of how to leverage natural human behaviour to get people to do things that are good for themselves and society. Just adding words to the effect of ‘most other people pay up’ to a tax late payment notice brought in millions more in revenue for the exchequer.

As the title says, this is fundamentally a book about how we think, so it could go in the science section, or psychology as well. For me, it’s the platform for everything else. Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for Economics. I’ve found the ideas in it usefully applicable in life, and it has implications for digital design. I don’t think the book is that well structured – it’s not an easy read, and needed stronger editing, so it often seems repetitive. I found it worth the effort to get through, but if you can’t push through the pain barrier, there is a summary.

This is my favourite book on the topic. It’s chock full of fascinating stories of how people behave in ways to influence others, and why it works. There’s the story of the waiter who would always suggest to the lady of a group that she make a different (cheaper) choice, getting the group onside, and then he would recommend an expensive wine. The same waiter would be haughty towards young couples, who would be intimidated into leaving a large tip. Lot’s of lessons applicable to life and design.

Cialdini follows on from ‘Influence’ by looking at the initial conditions that impact peoples’ subsequent behaviours. Just as fascinating as the first book.

Also see the books by Susan Weinschenk here.

Other books on the topic that I haven’t read, but are by highly regarded leaders in the field

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics, by Richard Thaler

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely