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A "Berkeley Book List" in Psychology

Compiled by John F. Kihlstrom


Hunt, H. (1993). The Story of Psychology. New York: Doubleday.

Gardner, H. (1985). The Mind's New Science : A History of the Cognitive Revolution. New York: Basic Books.

Pinker, S. M. (1994). The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York: Morrow.

Harris, J. R. (1999). The Nurture Assumption: Why children Turn Out the Way They Do. New York: Touchstone.

Dawes, R. M. (1994). House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth. New York: Free Press.

Gregory, R. L. (Ed.). (1987). The Oxford Companion to the Mind. New York: Oxford University Press.


Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychologists explain people’s behavior in terms of their mental states (knowing, believing, feeling, desiring), and so we focus our research and theories on basic mental processes involved in cognition, emotion, and motivation. Put bluntly, we try to figure out how the mind works, how the mind is related to the brain, and how mental states and processes play a role in action. Philosophical interest in these topics goes back at least as far as the Golden Age of Greece, but psychology only began to emerge out of philosophy (and physiology) in the middle of the 19th century. Despite being a very young science, as sciences go, psychology has already learned a great deal about the basic processes underlying human experience, thought, and action – how and why we think, feel, want, and act the way we do.

I suspect that most book lists in psychology start with William James’ Principles of Psychology (Henry Holt, 1890). In this book, James attempted to summarize everything he knew about how the mind worked. Even then, only a little more than 50 years after psychology began to be established as an empirical science, his effort ran to 1,000 pages that are still worth reading today. But to get a more historical perspective on how far we come, with particular attention to the American scene, I recommend Ernest R. Hilgard’s Psychology in America: A Historical Survey (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1987). Hilgard lived the history of psychology: he knew Pavlov, and in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s his Introduction to Psychology was the best-selling choice for the introductory course. For a wider perspective, including the philosophical backdrop for modern scientific psychology, I recommend Morton Hunt’s The Story of Psychology (Doubleday, 1993). Hunt is not a psychologist, but rather a science writer specializing in the social sciences. Trained professional or not, nobody has ever done better capturing the historical process by which psychology evolved over a period of 2500 years from Socrates to the present (don’t be put off by the unaccountably lurid cover). Hunt explores the main themes in psychology – cognition, psychometrics, development, social influence, clinical application, covers the principal research methods that psychologists use, and includes short biographies of many historical figures.

Psychology is not alone in trying to understand how the mind works. Beginning in the 1950s, researchers in a number of different disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics, computer science, neurology, and anthropology, came together under to form "cognitive science", an interdisciplinary effort to understand how the mind works, the nature of mind-brain relationships, the possibilities of artificial intelligence, and the role of culture in shaping thought. Nobody has given a better account of this trend that Howard Gardner in The Mind’s New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution (Basic Books, 1985). In this book, Gardner traces the "cognitive revolution" by which psychology shook off the radical behaviorism of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, and the process by which other disciplines joined psychology in a collective effort to study how minds work.

The one feature that sets human minds apart from those of all other creatures is the ability to use language as a tool for both thought and communication: the linguistic skills of the dullest child far surpass those of the smartest chimpanzee. Language gives us a unique ability to think thoughts that nobody every thought before, explore their ramifications, and share them with others. There is no better introduction to what we know about language than Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (Morrow, 1994). Pinker is one of the best, most engaging, writers in the business – he also wrote a book about the past tense of verbs, Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language (Basic Books, 1999) that makes you forget that you are delving into the most unimaginably arcane scholarly material. Sometimes his enthusiasm for evolutionary approaches to psychology outstrips the evidence: Language is a product of biological evolution, but it also lays the foundation for a process of cultural evolution that has much more profound effects on the individual’s experience, thought, and action. Nevertheless, when it comes to describing how language works, nobody is better than Pinker, and nothing is better than this book.

Other good books on cognitive processes include: Perception by Irvin Rock (Scientific American, 1995); Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past by Daniel L. Schacter (Basic Books, 1996); and Rational Choice in an Uncertain World: The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making by Reid Hastie and Robyn M. Dawes (Sage, 2001). An excellent introduction to cognitive development is The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn by Alison Gopnik (also at Berkeley), Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl (Morrow, 1999), which makes the case that children are actively engaged in formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses about how the world – including their minds -- works. Marc D. Hauser, in Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think (Holt, 2000) provides an compelling review of the parallels (and lack thereof) between human cognitive processes and those of nonhuman animals. For an introduction to modern brain-imaging studies of mental processes, I recommend Images of Mind by Michael I. Posner and Marcus E. Raichle (Scientific American, 1994) -- a book that is attractive enough to sit out on your coffee table.

For the most part, cognitive psychology and cognitive science attempt to discover universal principles of mental functioning. In that sense, psychology is a natural science, like biology, physics, and chemistry. But human beings are social beings, and the individual’s experience, thought, and action take place in a social context of cooperation, competition, and close relationships with other people. For that reason, psychology is also a social science, like sociology, anthropology, history, and political science. I have tried to avoid textbooks in this list, but the best introduction to psychology as a social science is Roger Brown’s Social Psychology (2nd ed. Free Press, 1986); the first edition, published in 1965, is a very different book, and also wonderful. Michael D. Cole offers a good introduction to cultural differences in cognitive processes in Cultural Psychology: The Once and Future Discipline (Harvard, 1996); his Culture and Thought: A Psychological Introduction, written with Sylvia Scribner (Wiley, 1974), also contains much good material. While psychology studies how individual minds operate, in Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology (Harvard, 1997), Eviatar Zerubavel shows how groups, organizations, and societies, also perceive, remember, make judgments, and solve problems.

Psychology is about the scientific study of the mind, and mostly about the scientific study of cognition (emotion and motivation also matter, but these topics are much less well developed within psychology today), but most people initially come to psychology with an interest in individual differences. Gordon Allport and H.S. Odbert famously counted 17,953 terms in the English language that could be used to distinguish between people on psychological dimensions, but by far the trait that has attracted most attention is intelligence. Richard Herrnstein, in IQ and the Meritocracy (Little, Brown 1973) asserted that the intelligence test is "psychology’s most telling accomplishment to date" – which would be sad if it were true; in The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (Free Press, 1974), he and Charles Murray argued that innate intelligence was an important determinant of social outcomes. Their argument aroused a great deal of controversy. Two stinging critiques of intelligence testing were produced by Leon Kamin, in The Science and Politics of I.Q. (Erlbaum, 1974) and by Stephen Jay Gould in The Mismeasure of Man (Norton, 1981) – there is also a book entitled The Mismeasure of Woman, by Carol Tavris (Simon & Schuster, 1992), about sex differences. Both Kamin and Gould score heavy hits on the enterprise of intelligence testing, but it fell to two groups of sociologists to show that IQ is not a powerful determinant of social outcome after all: Christopher Jenks and his colleagues, in Inequality; A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America (Basic Books, 1972), and UC Berkeley’s own Claude Fischer and his colleagues, in Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth (Princeton, 1992). The issues raised in the IQ debate also crop up in the UC’s critique of the SAT, initiated by former president Richard Atkinson (himself a distinguished cognitive psychologist): how much does a single score capture a person’s ability to succeed in school and in life?

In the final analysis, though, the study of individual differences is really the quest to understand human uniqueness. How does each of us differ from everyone else, and how did we get the way we are? The standard answer to this question is that the individual’s personality is a product of nature interacting with nurture, but the standard emphasis on genes and environments often obscures the most surprising fact revealed by personality research, which is that children from the same family differ from each other almost as much as children from different families do. This question is explored deeply in The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way they Do by Judith Rich Harris (Touchstone, 1999). Harris favors the view that children’s genetic endowments are more important than their family upbringings, but the important theme of the book is the importance of the "nonshared environment" – that is, those features of the environment that children do not have in common with their parents and siblings. Harris makes a convincing case that, in a very real psychological sense, every child is raised in a different family, lives in a different neighborhood, attends a different school and worships in a different church. These differences, much more than our genes or our parents’ child-rearing practices, make us who we are.

Psychology is a science, situated at the nexus of the natural sciences (as in the study of mind-brain relations) and the social sciences (concerned with the relations between individuals and groups), but it is also a helping profession, with clinical psychologists joining psychiatrists and social workers in providing mental-health services to individuals, families, and communities. The status of clinical psychology as a profession, its autonomy from psychiatry, and its eligibility for insurance payments depends on the assumption that what clinical psychologists do is adequately supported by scientific research and theory. Unfortunately, clinical practice has often strayed far from the scientific straight and narrow – leading to what has come to be known as the "science-practice wars" over such things as psychoanalysis, recovered-memory therapy, the Rorschach test, and the effects of trauma. There is now a movement promoting empirically supported treatments (ESTs) in clinical psychology, parallel to the promotion of evidence-based medicine, but the profession still has a long way to go. For an introduction to the tensions between psychological science and practice, I recommend House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth by Robyn M. Dawes (Free Press, 1994). Dawes’ book is in the tradition of Zola’s J’ Accuse (1898), written at the time of the Dreyfus case: he is almost uncontrollably angry at the failings of clinical psychology, and at its preference for folklore and myth over scientific evidence; he knows the field could do much better, and he can’t understand why it doesn’t.

Psychotherapy is often confused with psychoanalysis, but the treatments that work best are those that focus the patient on the here and now rather than the then and there. The definitive critique of psychoanalysis, as both a theory of the mind and a mode of psychotherapy, is The Completed Arc: Freud Evaluated by Malcolm Macmillan (rev. ed., MIT Press, 1997). Macmillan, who also wrote An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage (MIT, 2000) -- about a 19th-century railroad worker whose brain injury is still debated by psychologists and neuroscientists -- shows conclusively that, when it comes to Freud, "what is true isn’t new, and what is new isn’t true". Almost 50 years ago, the late Paul Meehl argued in Clinical versus Statistical Prediction; a Theoretical Analysis and a Review of the Evidence (Minnesota, 1954) that fairly simple mathematical formulas outperformed clinicians’ intuitive judgments in predicting patients’ outcomes. Almost nobody believed him then, but a more recent review by Howard Grob, Studying the Clinician: Judgment Research and Psychological Assessment (American Psychological Association, 1998) shows that Meehl was right on the mark. In Remembering Trauma (Harvard, 2003), Richard McNally demolishes the long-standing clinical myth that psychological trauma instigates repression and amnesia. The title of What’s Wrong with the Rorschach? Science Confronts the Controversial Inkblot Test, by James Wood, Teresa Nezworski, Scott Lilienfeld, and Howard Garb (Jossey-Bass, 2003) says it all. I have avoided anthologies in this list, but Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology (Guilford, 2002), edited by Steven Jay Lynn, Scott Lilienfeld, and Jeffrey Lohr, provides such excellent coverage of a wide variety of topics that I can’t resist it.

This list is supposed to be limited to about half a dozen books, but the range of psychology is so vast that this number can’t begin to encompass the work that is being done, and written about at a level that is accessible to the public. For that reason, my last recommendation is The Oxford Companion to the Mind, edited by Richard J. Gregory (Oxford, 1987). Gregory, who also wrote the classic Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing (5th ed., Princeton, 1997) has here compiled a virtual encyclopedia of psychology, cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, and related fields. It’s the kind of book that you can keep by your bedside, dip into randomly, and always learn something new.

John F. Kihlstrom received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Colgate University (1970), and his PhD in personality and experimental psychopathology from the University of Pennsylvania (1975). Before coming to Berkeley in 1996, he held faculty positions at Harvard, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Yale. Kihlstrom’s scholarly interests focus on unconscious mental life, personal and social memory, and social cognition; he is perhaps best known for his long-standing program of research on hypnosis. At Berkeley, he teaches the introductory psychology course, as well as courses on consciousness and social cognition; he is a member of the Institute for Personality and Social Research, the Institute of Cognitive and Brain Sciences, and the Center for Health Research. Off campus, he is a Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Healthcare Organizations and Transactions. Among many honors, Kihlstrom received the Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contributions to Psychology from the American Psychological Association (1979), and election to the Society of Experimental Psychologists (2003).