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Best behavioural science books

books com_b habits leadership marketing nudge personal development science Feb 15, 2023

The best behavioural science books (as recommended by lovely people)

So many books. So little time!

That feels like a Winnie the Pooh quote, I’m not sure where I first heard it but it perfectly captures that feeling you can have when learning a new subject and working in the day job. The reading lists are long, the books are huge and your workload is overwhelming. Suddenly choosing a book becomes important. The decision process which started off so simply becomes more complicated as doubt creeps in your mind.

Which is probably why the most asked question at events and on our Bootcamp training is “What books would you recommend?”

To answer this question and help get you started we have delved deep into the Behaviour Change Marketing Bootcamp podcast archive from 2022 to share our guests recommendations. In every episode we ask what one book would you recommend and the following is a compilation of books on behavioural science as recommended by communicators using behavioural science, book authors, academic experts and lovely folk who came on to share their wise words.

Before we get started I’ve also shared the two I am currently reading and recommend them as must-reads for 2023 they will lay the foundations for you across behavioural science with direct references to marketing using case studies and ideas to use behavioural science in the day job. In episode 38 of the podcast we mentioned the Behavioural Change Marketing Book club which if anyone is interested we could start as a 'thing'! But also we mentioned book shelves. So the books are organised on virtual book shelves to help you choose your next read. The idea being that the shelves will get cluttered with books as our lovely guests recommend them on the podcast. 

 To read more about the books click on the pictures. This takes you through to Amazon and more info. We are an amazon affiliate.

To hear more from each guest head over to their podcast episode. 


2023 must-reads

What your employees need but can’t tell you by Melina Palmer


Melina Palmer has a wonderful way of taking complicated concepts and making them easy to understand and easy to use. This book is as engaging as her first book ‘What your customer wants but can’t tell you' It focuses on change management and will literally pull the rug out from under your planning from the get go! It will open up the way you think about transformation programme and the needs of your audience. I challenge you not to love the analogies that make you want to use the learning immediately. (Clue they include elephants) 

Must read for everyone working in change management. 

Bootcamp rating โญโญโญโญโญ


Using Behavioural Science in marketing by Nancy Harhut

I wish I had read this ten years ago. It is brilliantly written with practical cases studies. Public sector/non profit communicators do not be put off by the consumer focus it is highly valuable for all marketing including behavioural outcomes. It differentiates between the different types of marketing such as direct mail and advertising campaigns highlighting where and when to use the science to increase impact. Simply put the colour of the book is yellow but lets call it gold, because in my humble opinion that is what it is!

Must read for everyone working in marketing and communications. 

Bootcamp rating โญโญโญโญโญ


Virtual book shelf: behavioural science & personal development ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿฟ


 Think Big: Take Small Steps & Build the future you want by Dr Grace Lordan


Recommended by behavioural scientist Dr Taylor Willmott,  when she joined the podcast chat about the role of theory in social marketing. In episode 22 she explained the ‘TITE Process’ 4 steps to applying theory in social marketing. In Taylor’s words:

“ a really great book to read if you are interested in  behavioural science but in particular applying to your life . She provides some really great actual steps that are backed by behavioural science for being able to achieve your big hairy audacious goals in life!”

Thank you Taylor. 



How to Stay Sane, The School of Life by Philippa Perry

Recommended by Stephen Carroll from Police Scotland. Stephen is  one of the brains behind the award winning ,Don’t be That Guy, campaign. In episode 25 he and his colleague Adrian Searle spilled the beans on how to pull together such an outstanding campaign. In Stephen's words

“I found this useful in personal and professional life it’s not necessarily marketing or communications focussed but I think it would help a lot of people. It’s a really fantastic breakdown of how are brain works and our thinking and essentially how to stay sane"

Thank you Stephen.


Lean In – Women, Work and The Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg


Recommended by Nicola Bonas on episode 27. Nicola is associate director of communications, involvement & inclusion at Integrated Care System for Devon and she with her colleagues Keri Ross and Amanda Nash shared how they are managing NHS pressures through a behaviour change lens down in Devon and Plymouth. In Nicola's words:

“I’ve read it a couple of times and there is a really key moment where you look at how women and men interact in the workplace -   the men always sit at the table and women sit behind and I’ve not forgotten that and I always make sure I sit at the table.”

Thanks Nicola


Virtual book shelf - core behavioural science books (by the jedis of B.S.) ๐Ÿง 


 Nudge by Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein


Recommended by Professor Steve Madden on episode 16. Steve is currently Director of Public Health at Wiltshire Local Authority and he came on to share how advice on how to advance your career to the next level. In Steve’s words: 

"It’s a fundamental text around how we nudge people into making better lifestyle choices – ultimately it’s about lifestyle choices the easy choice….it uncovers what’s needed from a government level...and how we  translate that at local level using behavioural science to nudge people to make better informed choices around their health behaviours a real core text and translates for public health and comms professionals.”

Thanks Steve


Social Psychology by Michael Hogg & Graham Vaughan

Recommended by Amanda Nash, head of communications at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust on episode 27.  It’s a text book must read and on its 8th edition (because it is just that good!). It includes discussion on COVID, sustainability and the replication crisis in the social sciences. A must-read.


Behaviour Change Wheel A guide to Designing Interventions Susan Michie, Lou Atkins & Robert West



Also recommended by Amanda – we have snuck two in here from Amanda because - in our humble opinion -  this is a must-read

Thanks Amanda


Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg


Recommended by Dominic Ridley-Moy on episode 26.  Dominic is a consultant in behaviour change marketing and he came on to share his predictions for 2023. Which included AI – and was he right or what! In Dominic’s words:

"It’s definitely worth a read. It's a behaviour model that explains clearly and quickly how to shift that behaviour. His model is around habits – B-Map, which basically says that for a behaviour or a habit to start or change you need motivation, ability and a prompt.”

Thanks Dominic


Engaged: Designing for Behaviour Change by Amy Bucher


Recommended by Elina Halonen in episode 28. This was the most downloaded episode of 2022 currently standing at over 500 times! Go Elina! Elina gave some valuable tips on how to use COM_B as a thought tool. Engaged focuses on the psychology of design and digital health.  The author Amy Bucher, PHD runs Mad Pow an agency specialising in digital health and quite honestly I love their work. In Elina's words:

"it’s really really nice, it’s extremely well written and a really engaging read."

Thanks Elina



Virtual book shelf - behavioural science applied to marketing and projects โš’๏ธ

The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton

Recommended by Leanne Hughes at Public Health Scotland. Leanne joined Polly Durrant on episode 23 where she shared her bootcamp experience.  Applying behavioural science through a marketers lens this book is invaluable for all the reasons Leanne explains.

“I like it because it is super practical it looks at more consumer information which isn’t my bag of sweeties but it’s engaging and its got a lot of case studies and very accessible.”

Thanks Leanne


Why we resist the surprising truths about motivating Behaviour Change: A guide book for healthcare communicators, advocates and change agents, by Kathleen R. Starr Ph.D. & Leigh Householder

Recommended by Polly Durrant at Public Health Dorset. Polly joined Leanne Hughes on episode 23 to share her Bootcamp experience and how she is taking the learning and using it in the day job. In Polly’s words:

“To me it’s a great starting point, it’s an interactive book there are lots of exercises in there – without it being overwhelming. It’s a guide book – I loved it because I have worked through it...I still use it was my very first behaviour change book.”

Thanks Polly


The Power of Experiments, Decision making in a data driven world by Michael Luca & Max Bazerman

 Recommended by Russell Cartwright, assistant director of communications and engagement at NHS South Eat London Clinical Commissioning Group. Russell came on to episode 17 to share tips on how to commission a marketing agency that uses behavioural science.  He recommended Quiet as a transformative book and also the Power Of Experiments. In Russell’s words:

“ a really good book for someone just  getting into behavioural science it’s got of examples of how big e-commerce companies like eBay, ABNB, how they use experiments and testing to find out what works with their audiences/ It highlights how easy it can be for us working in comms & PR in the digital world to adapt these principles.”

Thanks Russell


Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill 

Recommended by Adrian Searle from Police Scotland. Adrian is one of the brains behind the award winning Don’t be That Guy campaign and he came  on episode 25 with his colleague Stephen Carroll to spill the beans on how to pull together such an outstanding campaign. In Adrian’s words

“One of the most useful books I’ve read …. he took his sociology toolkit of observational techniques and took it into retail marketing…it’s about the limitations of market research and how if you ask people direct questions they will give you direct answers of what they think the answers but they won’t always know what the answer is and you have to observe behaviour.”

Thanks Adrian


Virtual book shelf - Creativity ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

 The Power of Ignorance: How creative solutions emerge when we admit what we don’t know by Dave Trott


Recommended by Jude Hackett, a behaviour change and social marketing consultant. Jude joined us on episode 24 to share how she uses the empathy map a popular design thinking tool that will really help you understand your audience. In particular we looked at Dave Gray’s version. The best in our humble opinion and it can be found on his Gamestorming website. In Jude’s words

“he’s (Dave Trott) an ad man, creative director and a copywriter and it’s all around creative thinking so loads of fun case studies  I don’t think you need to be from behaviour change, marketing or from advertising to enjoy reading it.”

Thanks Jude


Virtual bookshelf - leadership๐Ÿ‘‘

High management output by Andrew S Grove


Recommended by Jeremy Moser, on episode 30 where Jeremy the king of copy provides must-know copy writing tips if you want to motivate your audience to do something. I would also recommend reading anything Jeremy writes on copywriting or SEO!. In Jeremy's words:

“it’s really good if you are looking to manage teams and people and get a better understanding of how to communicate with people to a point where you are trying to make them be their best self. That’s one of the keys to management is how you unlock the potential that is within everyone and how do you foster a really good environment for them to succeed.”

Thanks Jeremy


 Virtual bookshelf - sustainability ๐ŸŒ

 Sustainable Marketing – How to Drive Profits with Purpose by Gemma Butler & Michelle Carvill


Recommended by Asif Choudry  on episode 32. This is the episode to listen to if you are currently building on an online community as part of your change programme. Asif is the father of #commshero a fantastic community and director at We Are Resource. In Asif's words:

“The premise is that if you as marketer and comms people we have the opportunity to promote the sustainable message and influence what is happening. So I would recommend anyone that is going on that sustainability journey for themselves of their organisation.”

Thanks Asif


Virtual bookshelf - non fiction ๐Ÿ’ž

This is going to hurt by Adam Kay


Recommended by Keri Ross, senior communications manager, Integrated Care System for Devon. Adams award-winning book (and TV series) introduces the life of a junior doctor in the NHS. In Keri’s words

"It was interesting for me as I had spent so many years in general practice and them commissioning and I had never worked in the front line service also just and really understanding the experience of a clinician working front line in an acute hospital really changed things for me.”

Thanks Keri


Happy reading ๐Ÿง ๐Ÿ˜