The 10 Best Psychology Textbooks
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in May of 2016. Although there is no doubt that we could all do with a better understanding of how the human mind works, these psychology textbooks were specifically written with students who wish to enter the field professionally in mind. We've included authoritative editions packed with pedagogical tools that are perfect for those new to the subject, as well as some for more advanced learners. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
August 13, 2020:
We came into today's update looking to keep the balance our selections had between general and niche titles, preferring to favor the more wide-sweeping volumes, as they'll appeal to a broader readership and offer more varied information. With that in mind, we kept Abnormal Psychology and Personality Psychology around, two focused texts that would be of use to anyone studying behavioral psychology.
We also decided to add something supplemental in How to Think Straight About Psychology. This one is a breezy read that teaches students how to synthesize mounds of data without falling prey to misleading claims or pseudoscience. It offers tons of examples, which some students find a bit tedious, but others may appreciate as they drive the points home.
To make room for How to Think Straight we said goodbye to Myers' Psychology for the AP Course, which is still a solid book for high schoolers or those looking to pursue a degree after a break. However, we felt that most introductions, particularly Psychology in Everyday Life and Psychology 6th Edition, can accomplish this just fine.
We also took the opportunity to ensure everything on this list was up to date, and so Psychology 6th Edition, Abnormal Psychology, and Psychology in Everyday Life were brought up to their most recent versions.
July 09, 2019:
Psychology breaks down into dozens of divisions, so the aim of this list was to provide textbooks that took a general overview and touched on a bit of everything. That being said, we felt a little specialization was needed as well, hence why you'll find Abnormal Psychology and Personality Psychology, as well as titles that take a different approach, such as Myers' Psychology for the AP Course and Psychology in Everyday Life. Personality Psychology, in particular, can also serve as a helpful supplement to many sociology textbooks.
We removed Essential Thinkers since it is not quite a full-fledged textbook (replaced by Myers' Psychology for the AP Course for industrious high school students), although we still feel it is a compelling read and an excellent primer to pick up prior to taking an introductory class. And while From Inquiry To Understanding remains a solid selection, we decided that Personality Psychology is better for rounding out the studies of both nonmajors and psyche students alike. Psych 6 has been updated from its previous 5th Edition.
Psychology 12th Edition has held fast at the number one spot due to its thorough research, excellent pedagogy, and easily understood writing style. Psychology 8th Edition broke into the top three thanks to its engaging, thoughtful questions and relatable examples, in addition to its straightforward layout.
The APA Dictionary of Psychology The largest association of psychologists in the world, the American Psychological Association, has collated an abundance of information on the language of the field in their dictionary offered here online. Users can peruse more than 25,000 authoritative entries across 90 subfields of psychology, including clinical, experimental, neuropsychology, cognitive, personality and social, developmental, health, psychopharmacology, methodology and statistics, and many others. dictionary.org
edX.org If you're picking up one of the aforementioned textbooks for self-teaching, consider pairing it with a free class from edX.org. This educational company offers classes from leading universities and expert teachers, including Harvard, Berkeley, and Boston University. Choose from myriad courses in clinical, developmental, and social psychology, which cover human behavior, psychological disorders, and more. edx.org
Who Else Can Use Psychology Textbooks?
While not every self-taught learner goes on to become a master in their craft, many do.
In the classroom and at home, books provide students the perfect study tool to reinforce topics which the section notes do not cover, and provide reference points for many assignments throughout the term.
While students in high school or university will obviously use the majority of psychology textbooks, they are not the only ones who can benefit from the knowledge contained therein. For instance, autodidacts can greatly benefit from these books.
An autodidact is a term used to describe a self-educated person. As the modern educational system can provide a generalized overview in many fields, specialists either seek out more schooling or turn to autodidacticism to reach more deeply into a field of study that interests them. While not every self-taught learner goes on to become a master in their craft, many do. Famous autodidacts include Steven Spielberg, Jimi Hendrix, and Leonardo da Vinci, who was a self taught artist, engineer, and anatomist, among many other things. The place every great self-educated person often begins is within a book. For those interested in the inner workings of the psyche, psychology textbooks are the best place to start.
These books can also provide illumination into the reasoning behind decision making and mental processes. For that reason, anyone who works with other people can help themselves out by reading a psychology textbook. Understanding where another person is coming from mentally may be the key to settling disputes before they happen. This can also be beneficial in business situations where one must figure out a person's motivations in order to close a deal or make a sale. Sometimes, knowing what a person needs or wants, without them verbally telling you, can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful business transaction.
Anyone working with children can find psychology textbooks equally helpful. Understanding the brain's processes, especially in the case of the developing mind of a child, can help you to provide them with the attention, communication, and care they truly need.
Textbooks can also enlighten a person about their own habits and psychological processes, as well. Self-study with a clear state of mind may shine light on patterns of thought or past experiences–and ways of dealing with the world–which may be holding the reader back from a richer experience with life.
What To Look For In A Psychology Textbook
Before reaching for any book on the shelf, it is important to understand that each book has something different to offer the reader. This is because psychology covers the near-infinite terrain that is the human mind.
While many will cover the major schools of thought in psychology, some people are more interested in specialized learning.
To give an idea of how expansive this field is, there are 25 basic divisions in psychology, each having their own impact in the mind, and each with their own rich world behind them. To decide on a book, one first must decide on what they would like that book to cover. While many will cover the major schools of thought in psychology, some people are more interested in specialized learning.
For instance, while anomalistic psychology is classified in the realm of general psychology, it is often left out or glanced over in curriculum. This is largely due to the fact that it involves the study of the paranormal, which has no objective quantification methods. For those seeking to study more niche psychological concepts such as these, a specialized book will be more suited to their needs.
It is also important to realistically consider the personal level of understanding an individual has about psychology. If a beginner were to pick up an advanced book designed for clinical psychologists, they may be left in the dust by the first page. An introductory book would be more suited to their needs.
Freud Versus Jung: Where They Differ
There are two great names in psychology: Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Together, they have formed much of the current perception about the human mind, and their combined contribution has pushed the field forward in countless ways.
Where the two became friends over their shared intellectual fortitude and insatiable thirst to understand the mind, their split was influenced by a few very large differences in their core beliefs that influenced their teachings as a whole.
Jung criticized his colleague's view, saying it was too focused on sex.
At the forefront of these differences was their individual beliefs in the unconscious mind. Freud believed that the unconscious mind was the center of repressed thoughts, traumas, and the basic human drives of sex and aggression. The unconscious mind was seen by Freud as a storage unit for sexual desires and hidden perversions which resulted in mental illness when left unexpressed. Freud is of course responsible for naming the three structures of the human mind the id, ego, and super ego. In Freud's view, sex and pleasure were the only desires of the id, which forms our unconscious drives. The ego is made up of the thoughts, memories, and perceptions that enable us to interact with physical reality, while the super ego attempts to repress the id into behaving properly through creating socially acceptable behaviors.
When speaking of the unconscious mind and psyche, Jung also divided it into three parts. Jung viewed the three parts as the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. The ego in this model is the conscious state, the personal unconscious is all of the memories, both hidden and easily remembered, and the collective unconscious is a sort of reservoir for our experiences as a species. Jung's having extensive knowledge of many Eastern religious and occult systems of belief may have influenced this collective perception, as well. It is interesting to note that this collective unconscious was mentioned and accessed by the sleeping prophet Edgar Cayce years later, in cases that baffle scientists to this day.
Freud and Jung also disagreed on dreams. While they both believed in the analysis of dreams, they disagreed on what this analysis revealed. Freud believed more that our dreams were accessing mostly sexually repressed desires. Jung believed more in the symbolic imagery of the dreams; where a dream can have more than one meaning based on the dreamer's associations to it.
The biggest area of conflict was undoubtedly sexuality. Freud believed that repressed and expressed sexuality was involved in nearly everything, and felt that it was the single largest motivating force in our behaviors. Jung criticized his colleague's view, saying it was too focused on sex. Jung decided the driving influence behind behavior is life force. While sexuality may be one of these forces, it isn't the only one.