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Best Behavioral Economics Books for Beginners

By March 14, 2022April 18th, 2022No Comments

behavioral economics books for beginnersInterested in learning more about behavioral economics? Members of the Center for Health Incentives & Behavioral Economics (CHIBE) leadership team share their recommendations for some of their favorite behavioral economics books for beginners.

Click through this gallery to see book suggestions on topics like behavior change, the science of scaling, the birth of behavioral economics as a field, the science of motivation, and more.

If you want to learn about the latest research in behavior change, I’d recommend 'Get it Done' by Ayelet Fischbach and 'How to Change' by Katy Milkman. Both of these books offer strategic methods for identifying and overcoming common barriers to change and are fun to read.

Kevin VolppCHIBE Director

If you want a general introduction on the rationale for how insights from behavioral economics can be used to change behavior and some classic examples, read 'Nudge' by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein and “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely. For practical guidance on application of behavioral insights to programs and policies, I recommend the Behavioral Insights Team 'EAST: Four Simple Ways to Apply Behavioral Insights.' For better understanding of how to design and test interventions that are likely to be broadly adopted and change behavior, I recommend John List’s 'Voltage Effect.' Lastly, for learning how to change your own behavior and form better habits, I recommend Katy Milkman’s “How to Change” and BJ Fogg’s 'Tiny Habits.'

Kit DelgadoCHIBE Associate Director

If you want to learn about the latest research on how to scale from a behavioral economics perspective – then 'Voltage Effect' by economist John List, PhD, is a must read. CHIBE Associate Director M. Kit Delgado, MD, MS, recommended it to me and I tore through it in one weekend – it’s a perfect example of bringing together insights from behavioral economics and implementation science, which is incredibly exciting given the potential for impact at scale at the intersection of these approaches!

Rinad BeidasCHIBE Associate Director

Michael Lewis’s 'Undoing Project' is an incredibly engaging story about Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman’s friendship and the scientific collaboration that birthed the field of behavioral economics.

Christina RobertoCHIBE Associate Director

A book that has really transformed how I think about decision-making and behavior change is Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir’s 'Scarcity.' 'Scarcity' is a deep dive into what happens to our decision-making ability under conditions of scarcity – that can include material scarcity, but also time scarcity or attention scarcity. All the usual biases that we are vulnerable to and the heuristics or shortcuts we use in decision-making are heightened under scarcity, and this can drive some unfortunate negative feedback loops. One solution to address or accommodate scarcity is to look for ways to build in slack (again, with time, or additional resources) to allow decision-making to be a bit more deliberate and to minimize the consequences of a myopic decision.

Alison ButtenheimCHIBE Scientific Director

Learn more about these books here:

There are also a number of courses at the University of Pennsylvania that can further education, training, and career development in behavioral economics as it might apply to improving health. Learn more about courses for training in behavioral economics and health at Penn here.

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