Many teens are fascinated by psychology, as they try to figure out the world, themselves, and why people do what they do. Today’s pick is a very readable book about intuition and how the brain works.
A list of similar titles with teen appeal should begin with Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown, 2005). And perhaps include a title released earlier this year, The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar (Twelve/Hachette, 2010), which takes the psychology of decision-making one step further to address global cultural differences in the way people make decisions.
Another great read that examines the way our brains function is Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See by Robert Kurson (Random, 2007). In Crashing Through, Kurson tells the story of Mike May, who had his vision surgically restored after decades of blindness, and how his brain tried to readjust to the ability to see, not entirely successfully.
Kurson brings the same pacing and storytelling chops to Crashing Through as he did to the Alex Award-winning Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans who Risked Everything to Solve one of the Last Mysteries of World War II (Random, 2006). Both are terrific choices for teen readers.
Adult/High School–Focusing on the concept of “everyday illusions,” Chabris and Simons conduct a tour of the brain and the many ways it deceives. Their well-known invisible gorilla experiment broke new ground in the study of attention and perception and led to the observations that make up this title. The authors open with the riveting case of a police officer who is unable to remember seeing an attack on a colleague taking place mere feet away. This “inattentional blindness,” looking directly at something but failing to see it, calls into question the confidence we have in the accuracy of our memories. The systematic breakdown of how the brain handles a hands-free cell phone conversation will convince many drivers to change their ways. Readers can easily test some of the theories themselves. The next time students do group work, they could observe the illusion of confidence in action. (In a problem-solving group, the person who speaks first appears most confident and 94% of the time, the group will agree with whatever he or she says.) What separates this from other psychology books is the engaging and accessible writing style. Using real-world examples and meticulously noting references to source materials, the authors present a convincing argument that our perceptions of the world and ourselves are inherently unreliable. Casual readers will be intrigued by the various scenarios presented here. Teens with an interest in psychology will devour every page.–Priscille Dando, Robert E. Lee High School, Fairfax County, VA