Introduction to Psychology with Better Readings
Ditch the dated textbook and read things that are more enjoyable and informative
Psychology, the study of human cognition and behavior, is of at least some interest to nearly everyone, especially college students. Psychology is one of the most popular majors on college campuses today, making Introduction to Psychology one of the most popular courses college students take.
I’ve taught Introduction to Psychology at three different colleges and universities, but each class is nearly the same: each institution has required a standard publisher-issued textbook with the same set of chapters with the same information and standardized exams that constrain instructor creativity.
My courses have liberally deviated from the content contained in these books as much as possible, and at the end of lectures I like to recommend popular books to students that, unlike the standardized textbook provided, might actually get them interested in the study of psychology.
What could intro psychology look like in popular books? Check out my list below to learn a new introduction to psychology.
Chapter 1: Introduction and History of Psychology
Learn about how the brain has been thought about across history, and the impact that has had on research and scholarship. Learn the characteristics of WEIRD people, why such changes occurred over time, and what impact WEIRD psychology has on our understanding of human psychology.
The Idea of the Brain: The Past and Future of Neuroscience by Matthew Cobb
Chapter 2: Psychological Science Methods
Learn about what contributes to the production of bad science, false positives, and replication failures, in addition to an introduction of how statistics and data can be used to warp your perception of research – and how to spot such tricks for yourself!
Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West
Chapter 3: The Nervous System
Learn about what the cutting-edge of neuroscience and genetics can teach us about what makes us who we are, and understand how noise and randomness in our brain development contribute to individual differences, psychopathology, and more.
Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are by Kevin Mitchell
Chapter 4: Sensation and Perception
Learn about neuroscience by taking a journey from the smallest neurotransmitter to our deep evolutionary past, and understand how our brains sense and perceive our environment to produce our behavior.
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky
Chapter 5: Learning and Memory
Learn about the world’s most extraordinary learning machine: the human brain. This book will explain the four pillars of learning and their applications from classrooms to artificial intelligence.
How We Learn: Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine . . . for Now by Stanislas Dehaene
Chapter 6: Cognition and Thinking
Learn about experience through the eyes of animals wildly different than you, and think about what intelligence means for different animals. Then learn about the specifics of evolutionary cognition and how such mental adaptations have evolved.
The Shape of Thought: How Mental Adaptations Evolve by H. Clark Barrett
Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind by Peter Godfrey-Smith
Chapter 7: Human Development
Learn about the resilience of child development and how parents can cultivate environments to promote the full potential of their children. Then, learn about middle adulthood development and, in particular, how our parenting and mating systems have impacted women’s evolution.
The Slow Moon Climbs: The Science, History, and Meaning of Menopause by Susan Mattern
Chapter 8: Personality
Learn about why children turn out the way they do, the role of peers and parents in personality development, and what behavior genetics research has to say about our individuality.
No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality by Judith Rich Harris
Chapter 9: Emotions
Learn about emotions from a comparative perspective, with exciting research from a variety of animal species. It’s not only humans that have rich emotional lives – animals are more like us than you may realize.
Chapter 10: Consciousness
Learn about the implications of our own awareness of our being, with an accessible overview of consciousness, working through what it means, various philosophies, and exciting hypotheses.
Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris
Chapter 11: Social Psychology
Learn about how humans have evolved over time to be an ultra-cooperative and social species, and how these social foundations have resulted in the societies we know today, and may have led to the self-domestication of our species.
Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society by Nicholas Christakis
Chapter 12: Health Psychology
Learn about humans transition to bipedalism, what our bodies have evolved to physically do, why such activity and movement matter for our health, and the consequences of modernity and sedentary lives on our health and longevity.
Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding by Daniel Liberman
Chapter 13: Human Sexuality
Learn about the fundamental nature of human sexual reproduction, why it’s important, and the downstream consequences for social behavior between men and women. Sex matters for more than just reproduction – find out why.
Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior by Bobbi Low
Chapter 14: Abnormal Psychology
Learn about the true frontier of psychopathology with a new evolutionary perspective on common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Ditching the categorical checklist model of psychopathology, evolutionary perspectives offer a new and more actionable framework for why we experience maladaptive mental states.