5 must-read books: Recommendations from the 2CV Behavioural Science team

Oct 26, 2014 |4 min read

At 2CV we make it our business to keep up-to-date with the latest thinking in Behavioural Science, reading academic articles, blog pieces, books and keeping an ear to the ground in the Twittersphere. Here's a short review of five of our favourites.


1. Time Warped, Claudia Hammond (2013) 

Time moves at the same pace for everyone, and at every moment in the day, but how we experience time is quite different to tangible measurement. In growing economies the pace of life is faster - you can buy a beer or a stamp more rapidly and people walk at a faster pace than in other economies. Under stressful situations we feel time pass more slowly. And the language we use to describe time (based generally on special metaphors) underpins how we think and feel about it. Time is present in every aspect of our life - it's there when we are making a journey to work.  We may want it to slow down on holiday or when we have a big job to get done and may want it to speed up on our journey home from work. But a range of powerful psychological and cultural forces affects our experience of time. This fascinating book provides an insight into how you can learn about our experience of the world through the lens of time. 

2. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath (2010) 

This book is a great introduction to behavioural science principles, ideas and interventions for anyone faced with the challenge of creating change. It is neatly organised into three areas (based on the Elephant, Rider and Path analogy) and includes a wealth of examples of effective interventions that can spark ideas and inspiration. One of my favourite parts of this book is its suggestion to focus on the 'bright spots' - find examples of where things are working and explore the lessons that can be learnt from these exceptions to the rule - can the heuristics, behaviours or environments be reproduced to benefit others? 

3. Drive, Dan Pink (2009) 

How do you motivate people at work? The answer may seem obvious if you listen to what your staff demand - more money and being promoted! However, as Dan Pink highlights in this book, it's not as simple as that.  Monetary reward and linking performance to hard recognition mechanisms (such as awards and promotions) can actually be detrimental to performance even in basic cognitive work - in fact they have an inverse effect - greater rewards yield poorer performance. Dan Pink argues for a need to look at creating more inspiring cultures, opportunities for learning and autonomy to focus on more occasional and social recognition. 

One study Pink covers illustrates the detrimental effects of reward on performance nicely: pre-schoolers attended an experiment in which they spent two sessions in a room with art materials for drawing. In the first session one group was told they'd be given a certificate for drawing. A second group was given a certificate at the end of the session (but didn't know at the beginning they were being rewarded for drawing). A third group was simply asked to draw a picture. In the second experimental session, the pre-schoolers returned to the room but were not given any instructions. Interestingly the second and third groups (who had not been taught to associate drawing with the reward) were most likely to naturally engage with the drawing materials on their return. Studies have shown similar effects around reduced participation in blood banks when there is a financial incentive. These studies suggest that by linking behaviours to reward you can destroy the association with intrinsic rewards that, in the long term, may do more harm than good for behaviour change.

 4. Drunk Tank Pink, Adam Alter (2013)   

A whistle-stop tour of some of behavioural science's more creative and colourful studies, Adam Alter's book is a really entertaining read. From blue lights that reduce crime rates and suicides on the subway, to how your name might affect your career and choice of partner; to studies showing the influence of eyes on dishonest behaviour. This book highlights how influential language, the social and physical environment is on our behaviour. Named after a particular shade of pink that was researched in 1979 and found to have dramatic weakening effects on people's strength if they stare at it for 2 minutes, this book makes sure every example is as colourful and thought provoking as the last. 

5. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman (2012) 

It would feel remiss to write a book list on behavioural science without a nod to one that focuses on Dual Process theory - the concept that we have an automatic and considered system in our brain that works on different mental and physical challenges, at different paces and requires different levels of energy to use. Kahneman's book is a masterful introduction to your brain's systems 1 and 2 and well worth a read.