Sunday, July 14, 2013

Basic Psychology Books: A Cheap and Entertaining Introduction to Psychology

If I could do it all over again, I'd go back to college and get a bachelor of arts. Yep, I'd get one of those "low employment" degrees and probably end up going back to community college or some technical school and end up exactly where I am now. Or not.

All I know is that if I were loaded, I'd love to do another bachelor's degree and major in anthropology and possibly psychology. Double major? I am an engineering school graduate who isn't very satisfied with his career -- the glass half-full perspective. Humanities and social science electives were required as part of my undergraduate program to "round out my education", and I must admit that I had the best time throughout those classes. The funny and sad thing, though, is that my grades sucked in those courses because they were secondary to my technical, engineering courses, so I devoted the least amount of time to them.

In those four years of undergrad, I managed to cram intro to anthropology, intro to sociology, and a few engineering-humanities blend courses. Psychology was the one major subject that I never touched on because I had enough credits and the syllabus said something about a major writing assignment. The joke was on me because the anthropology course I opted for in my final year had a huge writing assignment introduced.

Well, instead of paying a cold $500-ish to take a single course, I decided to blow about $100 to read up on the subject. My first stop was Psychology for Dummies, which I found to be pretty good and informative. I almost moved on to buying $100 course textbooks from a university bookstore. Thank goodness for my cheapness because I decided to find a cheaper solution. A quick search or two at Amazon later and I had a few books added to my wishlist that were purchased over the next few weeks.

Basic Psychology Books on the Cheap
The books I ended up getting were You are Not so Smart by David McRaney, Why We make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan, and 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology by Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio, and Beyerstein -- sorry, this isn't a college paper, so screw proper referencing.

Psychology Books
In short, I found each one thoroughly entertaining. Because they are all basic psychology books though, there is a little bit of repetition in terms of subject matter. None of it was distracting, it was just that certain experiments and topics appeared very familiar because I just finished reading about them a week ago. I would still recommend picking up all three. Let me go over each of them very briefly.

You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney
The edition I have comes in at around 275 pages and is my absolute favorite among the three, mainly because of the layout. Chapters are only a few pages long (I count 48 in total), font is relatively large, and line spacing is 1.5 to 2.0-ish. It made the reading go by quickly and allowed me to pick it up, go through an independent chapter for a few minutes, put it down, and start anew.

Oh, and the writing isn't bad either. According to the short bio, the writer is a journalist and "psychology nerd" if it matters. When I was reading it months ago, I found his style to be good. Everything flowed well and the language wasn't overly complicated. Can't recall any complaints.

Inside, you can find 48 chapters starting with a simple title, a heading labeled "The Misconception" followed by a blurb, and another heading right under it labeled "The Truth" with another blurb. The rest of the chapter is then devoted to explaining the myth and busting it. Each chapter is independent of others.

For example, there's a chapter about the bystander effect with the misconception being that people would essentially help others no matter what. The truth, though, is that the more people there are, the less likely anyone will act. Then there's four and a half pages explaining some of the psychological theory and experiments that have been done.

Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan
Coming in at about 240 pages (my edition) and also written by a journalist is Why We Make Mistakes. Again, I read this months ago, and I found the writing to also be excellent with good formatting and a good layout.

Instead of a myth busting approach that both other books use, this one is straightforward in telling the reader how things are. Chapters are relatively long with a main topic and multiple sub-topics. A number of psychological experiments and principles are covered throughout. I found chapters to be fairly interconnected despite this being a non-fiction, fact-based book. Best to go from cover to cover.

To give you an idea of what the book's like, chapter 2 is titled, "We All Search for Meaning", and it begins with a summary of a psychology experiment about remembering the faces and names of old classmates. The rest of the chapter is devoted to talking about why names are usually forgotten, how human memory works, the consequences, and how it affects other parts of our lives. Very interesting read.

50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology by Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio, and Beyerstein
This was my least favorite of the three. Maybe it was the higher price tag -- this one sits at US$ 20 and the other two are closer to US$ 15. Also, I believe I bought this one last, so I had already read the other two books above and the for Dummies book by then.

The edition I have is about 245 pages long and the physical dimensions of the book are larger than the other two. I felt that the formatting was a bit messier than the other two due to smaller line-spacing, which created denser looking pages. Each one of the four professors are or were professors -- one passed away. This might explain the difference in style compared to the other two books written by journalists.

There are a total of 11 chapters in the book. Each one covers a broad category and within each one are a number of myths clearly identified under bolded and numbered headings. Unlike You Are Not So Smart, a rebuttal is not written immediately after the myth. Rather, it is explained thoroughly following the heading using various psychological experiments and principles.

Chapter 6 is about emotion and motivation, and it starts with a myth about how polygraph or lie detector tests are accurate. It goes on to explain the myth, and within the same chapter is another myth about happiness being mainly a result of external factors.

Overall, I like it a lot even though it's my least favorite, but the formatting or presentation could have been better.

My Addiction to For "Dummies" Books: A Sort of Review
Non-Fiction Reading: Conquistador and The Ghost Map