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Great Books in Psychology


On January 13, 2005, I circulated the following message to three listservs: the Society of Experimental Psychologists, the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology, and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.  

An article in the most recent "Education Life" section of the New York Times recently argued that systemic educational reform was less important than making sure that the system's teachers were good, because "the one true thing" about education is that "It's teachers who change lives" ("One True Thing" by Anemona Hartocollis, 11/07/04). 

No question that teachers change lives, for better and for worse, but the article also contained the following assertion:

No one remembers a great school system or a great chancellor, a great textbook, or a great curriculum...."
I think this statement is demonstrably untrue.  I, for one, fondly remember the Core Curriculum at Colgate, and the proseminar system at Penn.  Here in California, lots of people remember the California Master Plan for Higher Education (some wistfully, now), and admire Clark Kerr for drafting it. 

Others might list the LitHum course at Columbia, the Great Books curriculum at Chicago and elsewhere, etc., etc., and so forth.

Even with respect to textbooks, dry as they might usually be, as an undergraduate there were at least two that influenced me profoundly.  First was a personality methods book, author and title lost to memory (perhaps I repressed it), but I remember the book, because it was filled with correlation coefficients, and I remember thinking, "There must be more to it than this".  Then, in a later course I encountered Hall and Lindzey's Theories of Personality  -- which, while leaning too far toward psychoanalysis for me, even then, at least gave me a glimpse of what a grand theory of mind and behavior might look like.  There was also, so help me God, Kurt Lewin's Principles of Topological Psychology.  As a graduate student, there was Neisser's Cognitive Psychology, and Mischel's Personality and Assessment -- the latter read, somewhat traumatically, at the end of a course in psychological testing. 

But of course, I'm only a single case.  And so, to check my intuitions, I invite listmembers to contribute their own short lists of fondly remembered, perhaps life- or career-changing textbooks, read either as undergraduates or graduate students.  Title, author, and just a sentence or two about the effect it had on you. 

BACKCHANNEL REPLIES ONLY, PLEASE.  I'll collate the replies and post them to the list (and I won't take a year to do it, either).

Of course, it did take a year.  Well, not quite, so I guess I fulfilled my promise.  In any event, I posted the results to the participating listservs on January 11, 2006.

To summarize, there was amazing diversity in responses, even accounting for the lack of diversity in two of the listservs polled.  Out of more than 130 books cited, here are the ones that received more than one (1) mention (this count does not reflect occasional updates subsequent to 01/11/06): 

Roger Brown, Social Psychology (8)
Dick Neisser, Cognitive Psychology (6)
Eliot Aronson, The Social Animal (5)
Robert S. Woodworth & Harold Schlossberg, Experimental Psychology (3, collapsed across editions)

And the following received two mentions:
E.G. Boring, History of Psychology
Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
Tom Gilovich, How We Know What Isn't So
Henry Gleitman, Psychology
Edna Heidbreder, Seven Psychologies
E.R. Hilgard & R. Marquis, Conditioning and Learning 
Walter Mischel, Personality and Assessment
Lee Ross and Dick Nisbett, The Person and the Situation 
B.F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior (plus a scattering of other titles)
S.S. Stevens, Handbook of Experimental Psychology
Jerry Wiggins, Personality and Prediction

The following individual contributions, , only lightly edited by me, and presented in alphabetical order of respondents' first names (don't ask), provide some interesting insights into some of our colleagues' career paths in psychology.  


Gleitman's psychology 101 text... I still remember all sorts of interesting facts and examples from it, and even some of the diagrams... and it was, egads... almost 10 years ago I read it. Ok, I feel old now, but still boosterish about the book.  [A.J. Guntz]

Worchel and Cooper "Understanding Social Psychology" (used for the undergraduate social psych class I took), which began each chapter with a real-world incident to introduce the topic of interest.  Bem's "Beliefs, Attitudes, and Human Affairs" (used for the graduate intro social psych seminar I took), which is a brief, lively written book.  [Alan Reifman]

Without doubt, the first edition of Roger Brown's text Social Psychology was critical in influencing me to pursue grad work in psychology. Here was a text with no pictures, no cute cartoons, or, heaven spare us, condescending inserts on how, what you have just read, applies to your life; just discussion, opinion, studies and a way of studying why people do the things they do and what it might mean. Can anyone ask anymore of an undergraduate text? [Barry Corenblum]

Roger Brown's 1965 "Social Psychology," 1st edition. No pictures, no boxes, no color. Just deep, serious, thoughtful text. It remained in print, without revision, for 21 years. [Bella DePaulo]

Timothy Leary's Interpersonal Theory of Personality is a classic.  [Bill Conway]

For me it was Pieron's "The Sensations", and Morgan's "Physiological Psychology". These were the books that I think were responsible for changing my major from  physics to psychology in graduate school. [Bill Uttal]

Robert K Merton. "Social Theory and Social Structure" A classic that has been neglected by contemporary social science. To an English major and aspiring (and pretty lame) novelist, it brought the insight that social life could be understood in a formal, systematic and nonintuitive way. Muzafer Sherif, "Groups in Harmony and Tension" My first real exposure to a social psychological experiment. Using the experimental method to study intergroup relations--a powerful idea. Leon Festinger, "A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance" Apart from the theory (the implications of which I think are still not fully appreciated), Festinger and his students displayed a kind of virtuosity and imagination as experimenters that set the standard for my generation of social psychologists. Roger Brown, "Social Psychology" The first edition of this classic (unlike the unfortunate pumped up and overpromoted second) did two things: First, it demonstrated the connection between social psychology and everyday experience by discussing mundane observations (e.g., a difference of opinion between interviewer and interviewee on TV, the predinner behavior of guests at a hotel) in terms of social psychological theory. Second, it redefined what social psychology was about by consider topics like language and cognitive development that were not part of the traditional oeuvre. The two chapters on language pretty much determined the direction of my career. I'll look forward to seeing your list. [Bob Krauss]

As an undergraduate, the second edition of Hall and Lindzey's Theories of Personality, because it inspired a life-long interest in individual differences.  As a graduate student, Mischel's Personality and Assessment, because it showed that individual differences are highly contextualized. Post-graduate, Cronbach et al.'s The Dependability of Behavioral Measurements because it shows how to study contextualized individual differences.  [Brian Lakey]

I remember: Courses well remembered that made a difference:  The Graduate Proseminar at Penn (team taught by Frank Irwin, Dick Solomon, Leo Hurvich, Gene Galanter, Duncan Luce, Morris Viteles, among others; Paul Rozin's Laboratory Methods for Graduate Students course at Penn.  Books:           Bekesy's "Some Experiments in Hearing"; Gibson's "The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems";    Kimble's "Higard & Marquis 'Conditioning & Learning' 2ndEd "; Mowrer's two volumes: "Learning Theory & Behavior" & "Learning Theory and Symbolic Processes"; Dollard & Miller's "Personality and Psychotherapy"; Koch's "Psychology: A Study of a Science, vols 1 & 2"; SS Steven's "Handbook of Experimental Psychology".  Leaders: Norman Topping (onetime president at USC); James B Conant (onetime president of Harvard).  [Bruce Overmier]

I'm probably not part of the subject pool you are looking for, being that I am still an undergrad, but I can name at least a few books that ARE influential and career changing for myself:  Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, by Lilienfeld, Lohr & Lynn (Eds.). This book is probably the single most influential book I have ever read. It completely changed the way I thought about psychology and is the reason I am a member of SSCP.  (the book was not a required text for any class at my institution, but I think it could be argued that I have received a "secondary" education from this listserve via my interactions with professors. If I were to cite a text that is responsible for any ability I may have to engage in discussions on this listserve, I believe that this is the one).  The Mismeasure of Man, S. J. Gould. Again, this may not be of help because it was not a requirement by my institution, but it was very relevant to a research paper on the book The Bell Curve (Herrnstein and Murray) for a social psych class, and it was a textbook for the university down the road (Denison University). More than anything, this book opened my eyes to cultural and political influences on science and poor testing techniques.  The Scientific Method in Practice, H. Gauch Jr. Another text not required by my institution, but it is a text I will be citing for a student writing column in the journal The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, assuming my proposals are eventually accepted through collaboration with Dr. Lilienfeld. No course on the philosophy of science was offered at my branch, but this book seems to cover this important topic and is part of this secondary education that I am receiving from the listserve.  Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking, M.N. Browne & S.M. Keeley. A text that was recommended by a professor I work for. Taught me how to actively listen and look for substance in people's arguments.  [David Cosmar]

For me, four textbooks, each read at a different stage in my career:  1. The Social Animal, by Eliot Aronson.  I bet lots of people will nominate this.  I read it as a sophomore and it changed my major (from political science to psychology) and my life.  I had no idea psychology could be so interesting, so relevant, and so smart, all at once.  Years later, the memory of this book and its impact was the inspiration for writing my own textbook, on personality, which in its first edition was consciously modeled, at least in its general style and level of approach, on Aronson's pioneering book.  2. Exploratory Data Analysis, by John Tukey.  I read it as a graduate student, and remember it had lots of information about graph paper.  But it was a radical book then and it still is.   Imagine a whole stat book without a single significance test!  He presents a vision of data analysis as it should be, a means of extracting information, knowledge, even wisdom from empirical observations.  And the best way to do this is to look at your data from every possible angle, literally.  3.  Personality and prediction, by Jerry Wiggins.  Kind of the reverse impression you got from whatever personality methods book you read (maybe it was the same book?)  I actually read this the summer after I completed  my PhD.  Another awakening; so  that's what personality psychology is all about -- using smarts and numbers, in clever and imaginative ways, all explained in crystal-clear prose, to try to get at the profound question, how are people different from each other?  4.   Personality: A psychological interpretation,  by Gordon Allport (1938).  Beautifully written, covers every topic in personality, and somehow (almost eerily) anticipates and provides resolution to nearly all the controversies that proceeded to arise over the next 65 years.  If everybody had read this in, say, 1967, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and effort.  [David Funder]

Although I have had some great teachers throughout my years of education, certain textbooks and curricula also stand out.  Particularly crucial were texts and courses that I was exposed to in the early years of my undergraduate education (1966-1969).  In fact, I owe my current job and career to these influences.  In the first place, it was a textbook that converted a chemistry/pre-med major into a psychology major, namely, the introductory psychology text by Hilgard and Atkinson, a comprehensive but well-written book with an attractive format and stimulating ideas.  I was especially struck by its treatment of topics that were later to become subject to my own empirical research, such as creativity, including the relation between age and creativity. So important was this book to my intellectual development that I kept it in my possession.  I even found it useful when I studied for my Psychology GRE.  My decision to pursue a PhD in social psychology was also influenced by an excellent text namely Roger Brown's classic essay, Social Psychology.  Yet interestingly, this text was very different in style and content from H&A, a more personal exploration of various topics, not all of which were considered mainstream social psychology either then or now - such as the psycholinguistics and the political psychology.  But it helped me appreciate the openness and curiosity that underlies original psychological research.  It was also splendidly written, a pure joy to read.  Secondly, it was a very special curriculum that is largely responsible for the research program I have been pursuing for the past 30 years: the History of Civilization series at Occidental College in LA.  Consisting of six consecutive courses spread over two years, and taken by all undergraduates no matter what their major emphasis, the series covered the development of society, politics, war, technology, science, philosophy, literature, art, and music throughout the world and from the Sumerians to contemporary times.  Moreover, it was taught by means of guest lectures from professors hailing from various departments, from the sciences through the humanities, rather than having some pseudo-polymath attempt to cover all of the content.  In addition, the series spurned some bland Hist of Civ textbook, and instead relied primarily on original sources and specialized texts.  We read works as diverse as the Epic of Gilgamesh, Njal's Saga, the Tale of Genji, and the Autobiography of Malcolm X.  Because everyone took the course in sequence, it gave a common denominator of knowledge for intellectual discussion - a common denominator at a very high level.  The use of discussion groups throughout the two years helped maintain the intensity of that great conversation as well, particularly since all students were required to keep a journal that recorded their more personal reactions with the material.  I loved the courses, and even became a discussion leader myself after I finished the series.  Moreover, the exposure to exceptional creators and leaders while simultaneously pursuing a chemistry and later a psychology major led me eventually to develop the idea of studying the psychology of genius through scientific methods.  Although I didn't figure out how best to realize that idea until graduate school, the seed was sown in those two years.  In fact, the data that I used for my doctoral dissertation had roots in History of Civilization.  To help study, I had begun compiling a detailed chronology of achievements in diverse areas of creativity and leadership, a chronology that only had to be expanded during my last years at Harvard.  Perhaps this is a bit more than you wanted, but once you got me reflecting I couldn't stop!  [Dean Keith Simonton]

Some of this may be more personal than you intended.. I was not an undergraduate psych major (E.E.) but I did my senior thesis in the psych department with Juli Hochberg (Cornell) I asked him if I should take introductory psych, he said no, just read Boring Langfeld and Weld (Introduction to Psychology, 1939, I think) (this was in 1955). I spent a year at Harvard as an experimental psych grad student. I disliked the program and left after a year (by mutual consent, it was too much theory for a guy like me interested in engineering applications), but the proseminar was very significant in my education, partly because I was pretty much starting from scratch and partly because I was exposed to many of the great ideas of the time from their creators (S.S. Stevens, B. F. Skinner, E. G. Boring, R. J. Herrnstein, J. C. Stevens, etc.) and because the other students were very smart and interesting people. I then did my PhD at Michigan with Paul Fitts. He was not a particularly stimulating classroom teacher (but an excellent mentor and advisor), but I remember saying to myself about the curriculum, "this is what I really want to know!" The book that was the most significant as a grad student was Broadbent's Perception and Communication. Finally, as a faculty member at Michigan several of us ran a seminar on Neisser's Cognitive Psychology and I think it had a profound influence on all of us, faculty and students. [Dick Pew]

A psychology textbook I read in high school (details no longer remembered, unfortunately) started my interest in the field, and Roger Brown's Social Psychology text, which I read the following year in Introductory Psychology at Harvard, cemented that interest.  I also fondly recall the Harvard freshman seminars program, which permitted freshmen to apply to various small special interest seminars with prominent academics or community leaders, as a way of jump starting our college careers.  I was admitted to Clark Abt's freshman seminar on systems analysis, and every decade or so I still look up Abt Associates (a social sciences consulting firm) to see what is going on there.  Last time I visited, one of my classmates from that seminar was still employed as a senior research analyst.  Finally, like many academics, I constantly draw on my graduate experience (in the social program at the University of Illinois) as a model for how requirements, theses and prelims ought to be structured, how classes ought to be run, and how students ought to be treated.  So I not only remember various texts and aspects of my educational curricula, but some of them determined my professional path, and others are drawn upon regularly when issues come up about graduate or undergraduate training.  [Don Carlston]

Whether or not it is true that  "No one remembers a great school system or a great chancellor, a great textbook, or a great curriculum...."  is, in a sense, a nonsequitur to what I believe is the most important point, namely, that school systems, chancellors, curricula, and indeed political agendas (read: No Child Left Behind) have a huge impact on teachers. Our research shows, for example, that when teachers are pressured around issues of "accountability" they become less good teachers, and the students pay the cost. So, the system is extremely important in terms of whether students will be exposed to teachers whom they experience as great. System reform is perhaps THE most important factor in whether students will have great teachers.  [Ed Deci]

Two books immediately came to mind. The first is Gleitman's introductory psychology text. Given the slant of my intro class' supplemental texts (Freud, Erikson, Gilligan), I sometimes look back and wonder how I ended up in psychology. But, Gleitman definitely made a difference.  I still remember sitting in my first-year dorm reading chapters that weren't assigned simply because I enjoyed them.  The second is Bolles' The Story of Psychology. This was a text used in my undergraduate history and systems course. In addition to having great practical value (a boost to my Psych GRE score), the book was written in what I recall as a surprisingly lively manner, with humor showing up in odd places, such as occasional nonsense definitions in the glossary.  [Erika Koch]

Lazarus, Richard S. (1991). Emotion & Adaptation.  When I was an undergraduate at Grinnell College, after being a research assistant for a semester, I applied for a summer research fellowship at the college and was accepted. Although only my major interest at that time was personality (it still is one of my two major interests), it turned out that the summer program was on the topic of emotion, which I was greatly interested in from a lay perspective, but had little knowledge of from a psychological perspective. The instructor, Laura Sinnett, had selected a great set of articles for the summer and she and the other three students and I had wonderful discussions about them in lab meetings. One book we had around the lab as a reference was Lazarus' "Emotion & Adaptation," which I referred to often and eventually started borrowing from the lab to read in the evenings. Lazarus' book not only elegantly covered the literature of research and theory on emotion, but was well-written and engaging to read as well. It was the single work that most inspired me towards the goal of becoming a researcher. I bought it soon after the summer program ended and have found it to be a useful reference ever since. I never met Dr. Lazarus, and was greatly saddened to hear of his passing a couple years back, and never got the chance to thank him for inspiring me.  [Erik Noftle]

Two books did it for me:  Berscheid and Hatfield's Interpersonal Attraction.  This was an early and 
introductory text.  What it showed me was that one could study interesting questions about relationships and friendships in a theoretically and empirically rigorous way.  That really turned me on.  Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.  The beauty of this one was the deeply insightful way in which he thought about social interaction, suggesting to me that one could look at ordinary behavior in a theoretically interesting and revealing manner.  [Harry Reis]

Here are some great Ė at least I thought so at the time Ė books I read (and re-read) as a college
senior and graduate student: Heidbreder, Seven Psychologies; Hilgard and Marquis, Conditioning and Learning; Hilgard Theories of Learning; Boring, History of Experimental Psychology; Koffka, Gestalt Psychology. [Henry Gleitman]

While in graduate school during the late 70s, these three books had a profound influence on me.  They were tremendous.  Jerry Wiggins:  Personality and Prediction:  Principles of Personality AssessmentPaul Meehl:  Psychodiagnosis; Jum Nunnally:  Psychometric Theory[Howard Garb]

You might add a little scientific content to your request by finding out at what career stage the book was read, assuming enough variation. It should have been early and formative (e.g., undergraduate first course in the field or 1st year graduate) in most cases. See S. F. Larson, "Memorable books" in Empirical Approaches to Literature and Aesthetics (1996), and more generally the writings of David Rubin, others who study autobiographical memory, and my own in studies of collective memory of past events. [Howard Schuman]

Lest you think that there is only a self-selection effect in your findings (academics are influenced by books and social psychologists in particular are influenced by social psychology books), I thought I'd relay an experience I had at SPSP in Palm springs (January 2006).  After learning that I was a social psychologist at a university, a taxi driver told me that there was one book that really influenced him when he was an undergraduate at Brigham Young.  It was a book he read in a psychology course.  It was Roger Brown's Social Psychology book.  [Janet Swim]

Here's my short list: Hebb, D. O. (1958). A Textbook of Psychology. My intro psych textbook at Michigan in 1964; it opened my eyes to the scientific study of behavior and to the brain mechanisms underlying mental life and behavior. Neisser, U. Cognitive Psychology. You've already listed it. I stumbled across it by chance browsing the bookstore in Ann Arbor in the fall of 1967, when I was a senior. It was the only copy that the store had purchased. I snagged it, took it home and read it that weekend without stopping, then told my professors about it. It helped me decide to become an academic. Miller, George. Psychology: The Science of Mental Life. A model of clarity and graceful writing.  [Jim Pomerantz]

Aronson's The Social Animal had a huge influence on me in making me choose to take psychology at university. It was supplementary reading for a couple of sections (conformity?) when I started at college. I read it cover to cover, lent it to all my friends, and decided I wanted to be a social psychologist. (I became a quantitative / individual differences psychologist, but never mind that.)  [Jeremy Miles]

Ah, just the question to divert a bibliophilic procrastinator ...In my own history, my list would need to begin with Gregory's "Eye and Brain". I was a High School student, working for John Krauskopf at Bell Labs. I asked for something to read and John gave me Cornsweet's Visual Perception. I didn't understand a word so I went down the hall and Charlie Harris gave me Eye and Brain to read. I subsequently went back to Cornsweet, which was, indeed, an important book for me. I would also list, in no particular order, Clarence Graham's edited volume Vision and Visual Perception, Frank  Geldard's, The Human Senses, Helmholtz's, Treatise  of Physiological Optics (vol 3), Lloyd Kaufman's, Sight and Mind, and Bela Julesz's Foundations of Cyclopean Perception[Jeremy Wolfe]

The books I remember most fondly are inextricably linked to the courses I remember most fondly. To me these courses represent the highest examples of teaching, in which the professor served as a facilitator of a relationship between the student and the book, as opposed to those that relegated the book to the role of providing the prerequisites for understanding the lectures.  These courses were all offered through the Department of Psychology at Clark University in 70s & 80s. They are: Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents, Skinner's Beyond freedom and Dignity, and Maslow's Toward A Psychology of Being - Intro to Personality - my esteemed undergraduate mentor, Prof. Jim Laird Ryle's Concept of Mind - Theories of Personality - Prof. Morton Weiner E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology - Sociobiology - Prof. Nick Thompson Frank's Persuasion and Healing, Szasz' Myth of Mental Illness, London's Modes and Morals of Psychotherapy - Introduction to Clinical Psychology - Prof. Len Cirillo  Thanks for prompting me to process them explicitly, though I am sure there is not a day that goes by that these experiences do not influence my work.  [Jim Hamilton]

Woodworth's old "Introductory Psychology," read in a Freshman Psychology course in 1941. Opened scientific psychology as a possible career to me.  Allport's "Personality." Read as a returning psychology student in 1947 after WW II. Probably the most scholarly book I had read up to that time. Impressed with the depth of inquiry, the diversity of sources and the notion that complex topics such as personality could be studied productively from a variety of viewpoints.  von Bekesy's volume of collected papers. Called, as I remember, something like "Experiments in Hearing." Blew me away with the overall pattern of research: Namely, study nature then build a model. Re-examine nature in the light of the model, then build a new and better model. Let the new model suggest question to ask of nature. Go back to nature, then back to build a newer and better model... and on and on recursively. A lifetime program of research built on this kind of cycle. Very impressive! Lorenz "King Solomon's Ring" Opened vistas of ethology to me. Not great science perhaps, but a really important book in loosening the grip of "environmental determination" on my thinking.  Chomsky's "Syntactic Structures" Changed our notions of the fundamental nature of language and mind.  Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" Gave us license to rebel against our traditions and teachers, and believe that we were actually making "progress."  I would still recommend the last four with proper caveats about what to take away and what to leave.  [Jim Jenkins]

Two of the most influential books of my career, which immediately come to mind, are Personality and Assessment by Walter Mischel and Social Learning Theory by Albert Bandura.  I also enjoyed About Behaviorism by B.F. Skinner and The Elements of Style by E.B. White.  I also enjoyed Implicit Psychology: An Introduction to Social Cognition by Daniel M. Wegner and Robin Vallacher.  Come to think of it, I could probably rapidly follow with another fifteen or so.    Books are what make the world go around! [Jim Megas]

When I first became interested in psychology, in high school, I read Hall's Primer of Freudian Psychology and Fordham's Primer of Jungian Psychology; I stuck with the field anyway.  In college, I focused on personality psychology, and there were three books that influenced me profoundly.  First was the personality methods book described in my initial posting, which was filled with correlation coefficients.  I thought at the time, "There must be more to it than this", and I still do.  (Since my initial posting, I have recovered the memory of the book's author and title -- not by the lifting of a veil of repression, it turns out, but by starting memory search from a different entry point.)  In a later course I encountered Hall and Lindzey's Theories of Personality  -- which, while leaning too far toward psychoanalysis for me, even then, at least gave me a glimpse of what a grand theory of mind and behavior might look like.  In particular, that edition of H&L had a chapter on Kurt Lewin's field theory of personality, struck me so forcefully that I actually read Lewin's Principles of Topological Psychology (I swear to God this is true).  Lewin stuck with me, in a way that Freud and Jung did not, and while I had no idea how to evaluate the topology on technical grounds (and still don't), the central idea of a Life Space defined by the interaction of the Person and the Environment really appealed to me.  I also took a course in existential psychology, offered in the Philosophy and Religion Department, where I encountered Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.  That book resonated with the proto-Lewinian in me, and I began to think about the psychological implications of the Sartreian doctrine that "existence precedes essence" -- how we construct the world in which we live, through thought, word, and deed.  I applied to Penn for graduate school, with the hope of doing hypnosis research with Martin Orne.  But I also wanted to work in a broader intellectual territory, and in my personal statement I wrote that I was interested in "quantifying the concepts of existentialist theories of personality".  Again, I swear that this is true: When I got to Penn, Burt Rosner, who was chair at the time, joked that they had admitted me just to see what I looked like.  As a graduate student, there was Neisser's Cognitive Psychology, which taught me something about cognitive constructivism, and whose last chapter altered my perspective on memory; and also Mischel's Personality and Assessment -- read, somewhat traumatically, at the end of a course in psychological testing, but which brought the cognitive-constructivist point of view into contact with personality and clinical psychology.  So it all began to come together: memory, unconscious processing, self, social interactions mediated by social intelligence, and the cognitive mediation of the person-situation interaction.  [John Kihlstrom]

Amen! In my own experience, books have been more important than individuals. I particularly remember as books that I found stimulating -- and not necessarily in agreement with my own opinion: Murray Sidman's Tactics of Scientific Research, Osgood's massive Experimental Psychology, Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy and a 1950s book by Nightingale on Advanced Physics (or some such title). And of course Darwin's Origin and several other of his books were an inspiration... [John Staddon]

While I'm still a graduate student (at Northwestern), when I read your e-mail two texts immediately popped to mind from my undergraduate education that I thought I'd pass along: 1) Psychology: Mind, Brain, and Culture, by Drew Westen. This was my Introduction to Psychology textbook, which initially sparked my interest in the field, but remains, I think, one of the best textbooks on any topic in psychology that I've ever read. (Having TA'd for Intro several times now, this view is only strengthened). Sadly, Westen got busy with other things and never bothered with a revision (to my knowledge), and so it's now a little out of date. 2) Ordinary People by Judith Guest. In my Freshman Seminar, my first semester of college, called "Representations of Mental Illness in Literature and Film," we both read the book and saw the film (I would call the film even more influential). While it's not a "textbook," per se, I found this story taught me how compelling the emotional plights of everyday folks, not just those suffering from severe mental illness, can be. I have often been reminded that helping clients overcome their Axis I disorders does not necessarily mean you've moved them to optimal functioning. [Jonathan Adler]

I agree with you about Hall & Lindzey. Additionally -- I'm surprised to be suggesting this because it's an undergraduate methods book -- but I have to mention _Reading Statistics and Research_ by Huck, Cormier and Bounds. It helped me learn how to decipher others' statistical reports and how to summarize findings usefully. I'm not clinically oriented, but Fromm's _The Art of Loving_ convinced me I needed to learn more about this field called psychology.  [Kerth O'Brien]

I apologize in advance for the length, but your post got me thinking. I most definitely recall with tremendous fondness both my undergrad curriculum with the Jesuits at Gonzaga and my curriculum at U of Nevada, Reno. Gonzaga was like an introduction to a world I never knew existed. And, heady times, those days at Reno. I was a brand new grad student helping to put out the first few issues of the APS Observer (the old tabloid format)--hauled loads of them from the printer in Carson City in the back of my battered Oldsmobile to the department where we mailed them.  Of course, one cannot really parse the books, curriculum, faculty, departmental zeitgeist, but as to remembering them fondly. Of course I do--the whole package. As far as texts, heavens:  In psychology:  Learning, A. C. Catania, second edition.  I got the sense that we might actually be able to have a comprehensive, parsimonious, theory of behavior. Very heady stuff. As evidence that the book itself had an impact, I continue to use it (4th ed) when I teach both graduate and undergraduate learning.  Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning. I think this is what psychology needs as a target--not the theory, but the content. Read it as an undergrad and persistently prescribe its reading. (mostly the front part, the back of the book never interested me much.)  Barlow, Hayes, and Nelson, The Scientist Practitioner. I give the most recent edition (Hayes, Barlow and Nelson) to my grad students in preparation for comps. I took away a big piece of professional identity from this book. It was a primary text in my first methods course (and first course) in grad school.  and out of psychology: Steven Pepper, World Hypotheses. Read in a grad seminar. We used it as a sort of typological lens to view different areas of psychology. What fun!  Popper, Logic of Scientific Discovery and Quine, Epistemology Naturalized. Read for a grad philosophy course. Ouch my brain hurts--but, in a good way. Part of an effort to think hard about what science is, what a theory is, and is for, types of theories, etc. (I got to meet Quine in Guadalajara in 1992. In my world, this is like getting to meet a rock star.)  Science and Human Behavior, About Behaviorism, Contingencies of Reinforcement, Cumulative Record, Verbal Behavior,  B. F. Skinner These were read in my undergrad and grad studies. I learned what depth of knowledge in an area was like. I learned how obfuscating cartoon caricatures are. I also took away from this in depth study a sense of my own limitations in critiquing areas where I had not devoted so much time.  Plato's Dialogues, I can't recall the translation offhand--I have several. A sense of the potency of deliberate thoughtful examination of seemingly simple ideas.  Tacitus, History of Imperial Rome--A wonderful sense of the sweep of time. And in the context of other readings, a sense of how the historian colors the history. Father Schlatterer said, on the first day of class, that if you didn't know Roman history you didn't know who you were.  As we read Tacitus and other primary texts like Augustus' Res Gestae, I remember getting this feeling of myself a citizen of the world.  Donagan, Theory of Morality, I just had Donagan's Theory of Morality on the kitchen table 3 days ago talking to a graduate student about the Kantian nature of Kohlberg's theory of moral development. Donagan was a book I used in a small ethics seminar as an undergrad. I am no Kantian, but I remember being riveted by the clarity of Kantian moral imperatives described in that book.  Leonard Doohan's three books Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Finally, some scholarly approach to Christian texts. It was like a new world. I learned to read biblical texts with an eye towards (1) multiple sources in the oral traditions from which they were compiled, (2) a sense of the social context in they were compiled, (3) a sense of first century literary style (without which understanding stories and series of stories is problematic), and (4) some sense of the social context in which the stories told occurred. (All undergrad) This left me with a very potent idea that you cannot understand an event without understanding the context in which it occurs.  I remember vividly reading Rousseau's Creed of a Priest of Savoy and Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents for a philosophy of religion course. Wonderful! What variety! It drove the born again kids in class nuts--as did Doohan's books by the way.  I will stop, but these are just off the top of my head. I have a little paperweight gifted to me by a dear friend. Embedded is a quotation attributed to Jefferson "I cannot live without books." Me too.  [Kelly Wilson]

I think it was Mark Twain who said something to the effect that "great books are those we want to have read but don't want to read"...there are many on the list I want to have read but will likely never read.   think the list is fascinating and there seem to several themes: 1) Books that turn someone on to the field (e.g., Roger Brown, Aronson, Gleitman); 2) Books that are chock full of valuable info (Stevens, Boring) but not, necessarily, a cover-to-cover read; 3) Books that help define unify an emerging field (implicit cognition, group interaction); 4) Books that present a focused critique of an area (Mischel; Meehl) and challenge an existing paradigm.  To these I would add books that force the reader to acquire cognitive skills simply by being pitched at a high level for a grad student (esp. someone like me who was in a clinical training program) such as 1) Cornsweet's Visual Perception (listed by someone in your list); 2) McKintosh's (sp?) Psychology of Animal Learning (hmmmm....didn't see it listed...but I suspect it would  be high if you surveyed Psychonomics or similar group).  I recall, as a first-year graduate student, staring at charts of bar-press inhibition in CER in McKintosh or modulation transform functions (explaining contrast gradients) in Cornsweet. Although neither was fun reading, the conceptual work that went into digesting these types of data and theory was extremely formative and I believe helped lay the foundation for thinking in other domains. Additionally, I believe I am still deeply influenced by these and other writings even though the domains of generalization are very different. For example, I had a paper in Development and Psychopathology in 2004 on the topic of the trajectories of time-varying covariates of trajectories of disorder and, on reflection, realized that an implication of this work is that there are probable different transform functions (ala Cornsweet) depending upon whether the time-varying covariate is a stable risk factor, a leading (proximal) risk factor, a coping response, a short-term consequence, a "scar", etc. I'm often told by my colleagues that my "old school" generalist approach is anachronistic in today's highly specialized research environment. But I remain convinced that the analogical reasoning base we can derive from a broad exposure to the diverse subdisciplines of psychology (and other disciplines as well) provide extraordinarily valuable cognitive tools. [Ken Sher]

I have great fondness for my copy of Unobtrusive Measures: Nonreactive Research in the Social Sciences by Webb, Campbell, Schwartz, and Sechrest.  I have favorite examples from that book that I still use when I teach research methods.  [Kristen Eyssell]

There are four "great book" titles that came almost immediately to mind when I read your e-mail note. Thatís one criterion of a bookís (personal) influence, I guess. But, although they are old titles, these are also books that Iíve kept on my shelf over the years, in contrast to the many Iíve given away or discarded. And they are books that Iíve had occasion to consult many times (although not much recently). Norman Munn Psychology (green cover) The first psychology book I ever read. Text in the first course I took, taught by Carl Pfaffmann at Brown University. The course, the instructor, and the book convinced me to change my major from engineering to psychology (for better or worse). R. S. Woodworth Experimental Psychology Text for a year-long course at Brown taught by Harold Schlosberg and Carl Pfaffmann. This experience got me thinking that there actually be something substantial to psychology and that becoming an experimental psychologist might be an worthwhile future to pursue. Schlosberg was writing his revision of Woodworth at the time and based his lectures on chapter drafts for Woodworth and Schlosberg. S.S. Stevens Handbook of Experimental Psychology The handbook would never qualify as exciting reading. But it was chocked full of information and presented the current state of the field back in the late Ď50ís. It was the text for the graduate proseminar at the University of Wisconsin, a course that everyone including me, hated at the time. Nonetheless in retrospect I learned more psychology in that course than in any other in my personal curriculum. Bruner, Goodnow, & Austin A Study of Thinking This book appeared while I was still in graduate school. It seems sort of naive, even archaic today. But it gave direction to my later graduate research, carrying over into the first half dozen years of so of my academic career. To me, at the time, it was an incredible source of new ideas about behavior and its cognitive underpinnings. I'll be interested to see the results of your survey. [Lyle Bourne]

First, I think your note is a good example of why one should not put too much weight on student assessments of professors. My assessments of things that influenced me has changed a lot over the years. You should also know that I got my education in sociology, though have spent most of my career in psychology, as a social psychologist. It never really got in my way that I only did first year psychology. I mainly taught myself in psychology--some of the books you mention were important, and in a peculiar twist of fate, I taught a course in personality for several years (no one else available to do it, a new university). So I agree with you that Mischel's book was formative and interesting. I also taught philosophy of science to psychology students, quite a task. I found Alan Chalmers' book "What is this thing called science?" to be very useful. I am sure everyone of my students remembers Russell's turkey and the problem of induction. I also think Rawl's original "Theory of Justice" informed my understanding of children's moral development, via Kohlberg, who is roundly criticized but had a point. Since I am a social psychologist, I found Anatol Rapoport's "N-person game theory" to be very influential to my thinking, and a more recent book by Lichbach, "The cooperator's dilemma". And, to return to the philosophy side, I would say Mannheim's "Ideology and Utopia" was definitely very important in helping me to formulate a position on how knowledge is relative to a standpoint. This was not Mannheim's point, he wanted to establish how intellectuals could come up with a correct answer, by examining various points of view. His argument failed, but it sure was interesting. Finally, I would say reading Descartes in first year philosophy was very illuminating (he was also massively wrong, but you learn something from that), and Mark Twain's "Letters from the Earth" which was a very funny and black book. And don't forget Robin Fox's book, "Kinship and Marriage", which basically puts paid to any idea that there is one idea of the family and of marriage. I think your project is a very interesting one--I could go on about great texts, but the key idea, of a core curriculum is one that has been rather lost in recent years, when students want to learn job-related skills. The capacity to conceptualize, to make analogies, to see the humour in things, has been rather neglected, and it would be terrific if you were to write a paper or a book on the topic. [Margaret Foddy]

Ross/Nisbett: The person and the situation.  I cannot imagine a more concise and readable synopsis of basic social psychology, nor one that situates the discipline among other disciplines more neatly.  They make one feel proud to be a social psychologist, too!  The reporter is plausibly underestimating effects of systems on performance, while overestimating the effects of individuals in those systems (see above for a review).  More subtly, Stevens: Applied multivariate statistics for the social sciences.  As I thought of candidate texts, I realised that I cracked this book open as much as any other.  It's a well-written reference, with good ideas for analytical strategies as well as specific techniques.  I've often started with Stevens and then consulted further in another text, so Stevens is a good catalyst as well.  As for systems, I remember my high school 3-hour AM combined social studies and English program, called Flex (as in flexible scheduling).  [Matthew Hogben]

I encountered The Social Animal (Elliot Aronson) in my first year at U of Toronto. It captured my attention and gave me the belief that social psychology was about understanding real life in a scientifically justifiable and rigorous way (and that social psychologists had the freedom to pursue a huge range of topics). Throughout my undergraduate degree and my PhD at Waterloo I continually referred to Roger Brown's Social Psychology (both first and second editions). Roger Brown especially gave me the confidence that social psychologists needed to be the MOST scientific of all psychologists, while maintaining compassion towards our topics and participants. There have been few clearer thinkers than Roger Brown--before or since...in my humble opinion.  [Meg Rohan]

I remember reading chapters from Aronson's Social Animal as an undergrad.  I particularly enjoyed reading IQ and Human Intelligence by Mackintosh as a grad student.  Of course, the Handbook of Social Psychology was torturous to read for comprehensive exams, but ended up being worthwhile (for the most part)  [Nora Murphy]

As an undergraduate White's Lives in Progress fascinated me with the richness of narrative, and the poverty of theoretical structures to contain that largess. The disjunct bemuses me still.  Garnerís Uncertainty and Structure as Psychological Concepts gave me the taste of theoretical richness I craved. That psychologists have been unable to reap returns on that investment in information theory also continues to amaze me.  I found Woodworth & Schlosberg [need I add Experimental Psychology?] late (as a grad student), and it confirmed my decision to make the problems they discussed the core of my lifelong study. I still call myself not a behavioral neuroscientist, not a cognitive psychologist, not a cognitive neuroscientist, not even a behaviorist; but proudly, and not a little wistfully, an Experimental Psychologist.  [Peter Killeen]

When I was an undergraduate student at Wesleyan (1962-1966), I read Roger Brown's 1965 Social Psychology textbook, and it had a huge influence on me. I decided to go to graduate school in social psychology, and I made the mistake of thinking that social psychology somehow integrated psychology (Piagetian, evolutionary, psychodynamic, etc.), sociology (e.g., Brown's chapter on social status and structure), psycholinguistics, etc. Of course, this was completely misleading, because only Roger Brown combined all of those things, in beautiful prose, and called it social psychology. Still, I have always admired his integrative thinking and his prose style. (When I spoke at Harvard several years ago and had an informal, worshipful conversation with Brown, I told him how much his book had influenced me and how misleading it was, and he said I wasn't the only jilted individual who had told him that over the years.) Later, when I was in graduate school at Michigan, I read Neisser's book on Cognitive Psychology, which again misled me into believing that cognitive psychology would deal with Freud's "primary" and "secondary" process thinking, creativity, language and mind, perception, etc., etc. And of course, Neisser was one of Brown's few matches when it came to prose style. One other influential book, or series of books actually, was by Ernest Becker, e.g., The Denial of Death, whose work is central to today's terror management theory. Finally, a book that has shaped much of my career was the first volume by Bowlby on Attachment -- again, wide-ranging, integrative, and very clearly written. As far as I can tell, there aren't any books like these anymore, and if there were, our students wouldn't have time to read them. They're too busy reading the most recent journal articles.  [Phil Shaver]

Campbell and Stanley's Experimental and Quasi-experimental Designs for Research changed my life.  [Phoebe Ellsworth]

Boring's History of Experimental Psychology fascinated me (we used it in my undergrad History and Systems Course), and it remains on my shelf to this day.  The book provided an eye-opening view of what psychology really is and how it got there; Boring dramatically deepened my respect for and excitement about psychology.  [Randolph Blake]

Tinbergen's The Study of Instinct; Neisser's Cognitive Psychology; Juli Hochberg's short textbooklet: Perception[Randy Gallistel]

About Behaviorism - B.F. Skinner; Behaviorism: A conceptual Reconstruction - G.E. Zuriff [Robert W. Montgomery]

You must not memorize the APS Observer, because there was a nice series of articles a year or so ago on just the issue of what were great influential books. Roddy and I both contributed (in fact, I suggested the topic initially).  As I recall, I mentioned Roger Brown's Social Psychology and Ulric Neisser's Cognitive Psychology as two that had a huge impact on me. Brown, because of the sheer joy he brought to a variety of psychological issues, and Neisser, because of the beautiful formulation of information-processing systems that he put forward.  [Roberta L. Klatzky]

I agree. Texts can be memorable. I had several dull college courses (due to boring professors) rescued by good textbooks.  Some of my favorites:  Undergraduate: Donald Lewis: Psychology (an intro text -- it was filled with errors and had a 3-page erratum in my first edition, but somehow it made it more alive and turned me on to Psychology in a summer program at Stetson University in 1964, between my junior and senior years of high school); Heidbreder: Seven Psychologies; Coleman: Abnormal Psychology; Brown: Social Psychology  (Roger Brown, that is); Deese and Hulse: Psychology of Learning; Skinner: The Science of Human Behavior; The ACC series of History of Psychology in Autobiography.  Actually, I kind of liked the Norton Anthology of English Literature, too.  Grad School or a little laterNeisser: Cognitive Psychology; Crowder: Principles of Learning and Memory; there must be others! from grad school. Crowder was working on his book but it didn't come out until later, 1976 (and I left in 1973); Others: Ebbinghaus: On Memory; Bartlett: Remembering; Tulving: Elements of Episodic Memory.  I'm doing this at home, so it's free recall.  Maybe I'll look at my bookshelves in the office for a yes/no recognition test, the Great Book Detection Test, or the GBDT.  By the way, the APS Observer ran an article on this topic maybe a year or two ago.  [Roddy Roediger]

Might I suggest Attneave's elegant book, Application of Information Theory to Psychology. This book was so well written I've wondered if Attneave might have ghost written Strunk & White's Elements of Style. Although information theory has lost some of its centrality to Cognitive Psychology, it still remains relevant as in a very important Science article by Koechlin et al about 8 months of so ago. There is no better way to learn the elements of information theory than from Attneave's short, comprehensible book. Plus it gives a great review of some older work that remains at the heart of much modern thought.  [Steve Keele]

In discussing systems, I am someone who remembers a system MORE than any single teachers (not that there aren't any).  As a proud Brandeis alum, I remember choosing the school for undergrad because it promised small classes (at every level but Intro) with PhD faculty who were active in research.  I was not disappointed.  I had Leslie Zebrowitz for Methods with maybe 12 other students, Maurice Hershenson for Stats and for perception with less than 15, etc.  It's the system that allowed me to interact closely with great teachers who made a difference.  In terms of books, these hit me later in my academic life, but Tom Gilovich's "How We Know What Isn't So" is so worn out I might need another.  Ross & Nisbett's "The Person and Situation" helped me define social psych.  [Steven M. Samuels]

Most memorable books from my student days: Cognitive Psychology (Neisser) came out while I was an undergrad major in Psychology and reshaped the landscape of the field in ways that I found most pleasing. Not really a textbook, in my view, but a very important monograph. Human Information Processing (Norman & Lindsay) was being written while I was in the LRN (Lindsay, Norman & Rumelhart) lab at UCSD and TAed for them. It was the first really successful textbook of the so-called cognitive revolution, in my opinion, and still ranks as one of the most creative and imaginative textbooks ever written in psychology. (One of my early grad students quit her job and decided to go to graduate school in Psychology after reading this book.) Mathematical Psychology (Coombs, Dawes & Tversky) was the text in a course Rumelhart taught of the same name. It was incredibly clear and accessible on a topic that is seldom either of those things. [Steve  Palmer]

The orange attribution book (Attribution Theory, Jones et al., 1972) Human Inference (Nisbett & Ross) Handbook of Social Psychology (prior to my involvement, I swear).  [Susan Fiske]

I'm guessing at some of these titles: Carlson - Physiology and Behavior; Lezak - Neuropsychology.  I agree with you about Neisser's and Mischel's books, although I've only read sections of them.  [Valerie Williams]

I certainly agree about the influence of great textbooks.  A few of my favorites as an undergraduate were: -- The Social Animal (edited by Elliot Aronson et al.);   -- How we know what isn't so: The fallibility of human reason in everyday life (by Thomas Gilovich).  And as a graduate student in social psych I enjoyed:   -- Empathic Accuracy (edited by Bill Ickes); -- Interpersonal Perception (by David Kenny).  This may be irrelevant (and is certainly geeky), but I also thought "A Traveler's Guide to Spacetime," by Thomas Moore, was an amazing intro. physics text on the theory of special relativity.  Sounds a little high-level for undergraduates, but it's actually extremely easy to read, with lots of fun time-travel examples thrown in.  [Weylin Sternglanz]


This page last updated 04/08/10 02:58:40 PM.