8 Books To Read If You're a Psychology Student

8 Books To Read If You're a Psychology Student

Chloe Lane

Updated September 12, 2021 Updated September 12

Psychology can be an extremely fascinating subject, even if it’s hard to remember that when you’re surrounded by a pile of textbooks preparing for exams.

Whether you’ve studied psychology for ages or your first year at uni is around the corner, here are eight books which will not only help you with your course but will also help you rediscover what you loved about psychology in the first place.

Enrich your mind by reading about the mind – makes sense, right?

Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole: Extraordinary Journeys into the Human Brain by Dr Allan Ropper and Brian David Burrell.
Reaching Down The Rabbit Hole

Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole is a book about the front line of clinical neurology, and the struggle of trying to heal the body when the mind is under attack.

By watching and listening to the patient, he is able to rapidly deduce what the problem is. Much like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, absurdities are a daily occurrence in Dr Ropper’s patients, and he explains some of the more interesting cases he encounters.

Read about cases such as the man found circling around in traffic because he couldn’t find his way home, a child molester who after slipping on ice has a brain that’s dead in a body that’s alive, and a mom diagnosed with ALS who has to decide whether a life locked inside her own head is worth living.

Written more as a story than simply stating the facts, and going into detail with each case, this is a good book for teaching psychology students about the different symptoms for brain diseases. The book manages to be both compassionate and informative and offers a better understanding into the complexity of the job of a neurologist.

Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments by Alex Boese
Elephants on Acid

Elephants on Acid is an exploration into the craziest psychological experiments that have happened across time (but mainly the 1970s) in the name of science. The experiment referred to in the title is one in which an elephant called Tusko was selected for an experiment to determine what happens to an elephant given a massive dose of LSD.

Other experiments discussed include: Will babies instinctively pick a well-balanced diet? Will the average dog summon help in an emergency? Why can’t we tickle ourselves? And is it possible to bring back life to the dead?

This is a book filled with strange, often terrifying experiments in a time when there weren’t measures in place to protect the individual being experimented on.

Every psychology student should read this because it really makes you appreciate the importance of the ethical procedures put in place for psychological experiments in the 21st century. This is a book which is both horrifying and humorous.

Note: this may be a book that is quite upsetting for animal lovers, as many of the experiments written about in this book are extremely disturbing. 

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)

Have you ever wondered how strong the power of suggestion really is? Have you ever bought the more expensive of two similar items and then spent ages telling yourself that the cheaper one would’ve been completely unreliable? If so, then this is the book for you.

Written by two social psychologists, the book deals with cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias and other cognitive biases, explaining why it is that when people make mistakes, they convince themselves they are right to spare themselves the embarrassment of being wrong.

"If mistakes were made," say the authors, "memory helps us remember that they were made by someone else." For example, when you swear you put an object somewhere and it’s found in a different place, you proceed to convince yourself that someone else must’ve moved it.

Tavris and Aronson explore whether we ever really believe the stories we tell ourselves and other people, and what this has meant throughout history.

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt
The Happiness Hypothesis

In The Happiness Hypothesis, award-winning psychologist Jonathan Haidt takes ancient wisdom and ideals that people thought it was necessary to follow in order to live meaningful lives, and tests it under the scrutiny of modern science. He then uses the results from these tests to apply these lessons to everyday life in the 21st century.

In his book Haidt discusses behavioral biases, beliefs, religions, morality and consciousness, using published psychological studies and science to dissect them.

If you’re someone who enjoys a mix of philosophy and psychology, then this is the perfect book for you. Praised for its originality, the book puts to the test well known ideals such as ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and ‘do unto others as you would have others do unto you’. This is a book to help you reflect on human behavior.

The Private Life of the Brain by Susan Greenfield
The Private Life of the Brain

This one is on the University of Oxford’s psychology course reading list, so you know it’s worth a read. The Private Life of the Brain explores “the effects of neurological disorders and injuries, the actions of drugs, the character of thought in dreams, in schizophrenia, in reverie, and in childhood”.

Although this book can, at times, be quite heavy reading, it is a good one to read if you want to gain a solid overview of neuroscience research. The book offers a fascinating glimpse into the human mind and explains how physiology and experience intertwine to define an individual.

Greenfield challenges common assumptions made about the brain while answering interesting questions such as ‘What is the relationship between pleasure and pain?’ and ‘How might an understanding of the science of emotion help us better understand schizophrenia and depression?’.

This book is a must-read for any psychology student looking to better understand the human brain.

The Little Book of Psychology by Emily Ralls and Caroline Riggs
The Little Book of Psychology

All of the best bits about psychology with none of the fluff. This is a good book to read if you want a basic overview of psychology and to learn about the key theories.

The book gives an overview on the famous psychologists, theories, psychological studies and themes you need to know for your course.

Only 128 pages long, this book is a great place to start if you’re a psychology student about to start university.

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo
The Lucifer Effect

Written by renowned social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, and the basis of the award-winning film The Stanford Prison Experiment, The Lucifer Effect explores why good people can be convinced to act evil and where the line is really drawn between good and bad.

Zimbardo gives a first-hand account of his infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, in which a group of college student volunteers were placed in a mock prison environment and randomly split into either ‘prisoners’ or ‘guards’ (with Zimbardo serving as the superintendent.

The experiment had to be stopped after a week as both groups quickly got into their roles, with the guards submitting some prisoners to psychological abuse. In this environment, the prisoners became unstable, with several leaving early due to psychological breakdowns.

Although there have been many criticisms of the experiment, this book makes for an interesting read for psychology and non-psychology students alike. It also gives an excellent insight into the power of roles and group identity, and how humans can become cruel very quickly in the right situation.

In the book, Zimbardo examines the psychological causes behind the surprising results of this experiment and confronts the terrifying reality of human nature.

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
The Psychopath Test

Bestselling journalist Jon Ronson learns how to spot a psychopath from an influential psychologist, who is convinced that many important CEOs are psychopaths.

He is told its possible to do this by looking at a variety of verbal and nonverbal clues. He then goes to talk to several suspected psychopaths: a death squad leader, a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he isn’t a psychopath and a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press.

While this book is unlikely to help you in your course significantly, it makes for an entertaining and enjoyable read for psychology students.

Other interesting nonfiction psychology books

If you just can’t get enough psychology, some other books that we recommend for psychology students are:

Image credit: Goodreads

This article was originally published in September 2019 . It was last updated in September 2021

Written by

A Content Writer for TopUniversities.com, Chloe has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK.