I am a student currently doing my undergraduate degree (Electrical and Electronics, if it interests anyone). I am very much interested in studying psychology. I have read quite a bit on psychology, mostly on PsychCentral and PsychologyToday, but the knowledge I have is in bits and pieces. I want to have a well-organised knowledge of psychology like a student who is pursuing a career in psychology. The knowledge that I have right now feels like 'Googled knowledge' to me. I am of the belief that anyone should be able to learn anything he wants to, irrespective of whether he goes to college for it or not.

What subjects does a good university course on psychology have? (Yes! List all of them. Along with the years in which you studied them, starting from the freshman year!)
What are good textbooks for these subjects?

[It is not possible for me to get formal education in psychology. I would really appreciate it if you just accept this fact and not challenge it. :-) The resources that I really have to study are the internet and books. (Yes, I'll buy them.) I want to make the best I can with what I've got.]


3 Answers 3


I’ve compiled a reading list based on the books I acquired during my undergraduate and graduate psychology programs. I’ve not listed the year I took the course because, with the exception of Introduction to Psychology being required first year and History and Systems being required in our last year (History and Systems was supposed to serve as a GRE study aid), the order of the courses were very flexible. Although there were some topics that were more likely to be taken in the second or third year, that was primarily due to how the instructor had structured the course; courses with more rigorous writing or exam requirements were reserved for later years. Because you will be conducting a self-study, you should generally be able to read/explore these topics in the order that you want.

Also, please note that all programs have a range of elective topics and areas of concentration that will vary. Finally, these books were all sufficient textbooks but are not the only option. In my experience, if you look at the top three psychology textbooks on Amazon for a given topic (e.g., social psychology) they will generally cover the same information and should meet your needs. I recommend using this list as a starting place to develop a list of psychology topics, rather than a strict list of books. You can read textbook reviews or consumer feedback and determine which book you prefer for a given topic. I have listed the most recent editions for the books that I used, but for most topics (except perhaps the neuropsychology books and abnormal [due to DSM-5]) you could safely use older editions dating back ten years.

Introduction to Psychology: This will provide you with an introductory overview of the field, including major theories and areas of psychology. The areas listed in this book (biological psychology, sensation and perception, consciousness, learning, memory, thinking/language/intelligence, motivation and emotion, lifespan development, human sexuality, personality, social psychology, and abnormal psychology) make up the core classes that were part of my undergraduate program.

  • Hockenbury, D. H., & Hockenbury, S. E. (2012). Psychology. Worth Publishers. ISBN: 1429243678

Abnormal Psychology

  • Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2001). Abnormal Psychology. McGraw Hill. ISBN: 0-07-235799-1

  • Barlow, D., & Durand, V. (2014). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach. Cengage Learning. ISBN: 1285755618

  • Halgin, R. P. (Ed.). (2000). Taking sides: Clashing views on controversial issues in abnormal psychology. Dushkin/McGraw-Hill. ISBN: 0-07-237193-5

Social Psychology

  • Brehm, S. S., Kassin, S. M., & Fein, S. (2001). Social Psychology. Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 0-618-12964-2

Biological Psychology/Neuropsychology

  • Kalat, J. (2012). Biological psychology. Cengage Learning. ISBN: 1111831009

  • Kolb, B., & Whishaw, I. Q. (2009). Fundamentals of human neuropsychology. Macmillan. ISBN: 0716795868

Sensation and Perception: Neuropsychology specific to the five senses

  • Goldstein, E. (2013). Sensation and perception. Cengage Learning. ISBN: 1133958494

Lifespan Development: The psychology of cognitive, emotional, and social development from birth to death.

  • Berger, K. S. (2003). The developing person through childhood and adolescence. Macmillan. ISBN: 1-57259-429-2

  • Berk, L. (2013). Development through the lifespan. Pearson Education India. ISBN: 0205957609

History and Systems of Psychology: While Intro to Psych will provide an overview of major areas and disciplines of psychology, this will provide a better sense of the development of psychology as a field and origin of different branches of psychology.

  • Thorne, B. M., & Henley, T. B. (1997). Connections in the history and systems of psychology. Houghton, Mifflin and Company. ISBN: 0-618-41512-2

Behavior Therapy/Learning: This was an undergraduate introduction to classic learning theory and cognitive behavioral therapy.

  • Powell, R., Honey, P., & Symbaluk, D. (2012). Introduction to learning and behavior. Cengage Learning. ISBN: 111183430X

  • Spiegler, M., & Guevremont, D. (2009). Contemporary behavior therapy. Cengage Learning. ISBN: 049550906X

  • Seligman, M. (1975). Helplessness: On depression, development, and death. A series of books in psychology. New York, NY: WH Freeman/Times Books/Henry Holt & Co. ISBN: 0-7167-0752-7

Human Sexuality

  • Miracle, T. S., Miracle, A. W., & Baumeister, R. F. (2003). Human sexuality: Meeting your basic needs. Prentice Hall. ISBN: 0-13-032658-5

Research Methods and Statistics: Included here because it is required in most programs, though it may not be of interest to you.

  • Smith, R., & Davis, S. (2012). The psychologist as detective: An introduction to conducting research in psychology. ISBN: 0205859070

  • Gravetter, F., & Wallnau, L. (2006). Statistics for the behavioral sciences. Cengage Learning. ISBN: 0-495-60220-5

My graduate work focused on clinical psychology and research, which this reading list reflects:

  • Sansone, C., Morf, C. C., & Panter, A. T. (Eds.). (2003). The Sage handbook of methods in social psychology. Sage Publications. ISBN: 076192535X
  • Knapp, S. J., & VandeCreek, L. D. (2006). Practical ethics for psychologists: A positive approach. American Psychological Association. ISBN: 1-59147-326-8
  • Egan, G. (2013). The skilled helper: A problem-management and opportunity-development approach to helping. Cengage Learning. ISBN: 0-495-60189-6
  • Dobson, K. S. (Ed.). (2009). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies. Guilford Press. ISBN: 978-1-60623-437-2
  • Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond. Guilford Press. ISBN: 978-1-60918-504-6
  • Corrigan, P. W., Mueser, K. T., Bond, G. R., Drake, R. E., & Solomon, P. (2012). Principles and practice of psychiatric rehabilitation: An empirical approach. Guilford Press. ISBN: 978-1-60623-344-3
  • Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2012). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN: 978-0-470-08632-2
  • $\begingroup$ That was really, truly a helpful answer. I know you must have spent quite some time recalling these details, especially the textbooks. I appreciate it very much. This made me realise that there is a long way to go. It'll do me good to start soon. Thanks once again. $\endgroup$
    – John Red
    Aug 25, 2014 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ I forgot to ask. What book you think I should start with? People usually say, "any one of these would be fine". Sorry to be blunt but please don't give me that answer. You must have preferences right? And I am asking you what is your preference. Please suggest one book. I'll take it from there! $\endgroup$
    – John Red
    Aug 28, 2014 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ Though not a very original answer, I would say you can't go wrong with Hockenbury & Hockenbury's intro to psych. It will provide an overview of all the major areas listed, and based on which area piques your interest you can decide what to read next. I'd say based on your reaction to the different sections of that book you'll be able to map out the "study plan" that makes most sense and is of the most interest to you. $\endgroup$
    – user30295
    Aug 28, 2014 at 21:31

There are hundreds of introductory textbooks out there, not just for psych in general but for the fields in psychology, so choosing a text isn't straightforward. You would be best off asking for an expert opinion from those who have taught intro courses at a university, and then check the ratings on Amazon. For example, you can go the psychology department webpage of any U to find the emails of faculty members in different areas or you can try the undergraduate administrator. At the University of Minnesota, the intro psych text being used is Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding by Scott Lilienfeld (first author). You should also absolutely check out the book How to Think Straight About Psychology (by Keith Stanovich) which appears to have become a classic and is now in its 10th edition. I know that it is used at several universities.

You might even find the answer to your question by googling something like "best _ psychology textbook". Should be able to come across some qualified opinions on the web.

  • $\begingroup$ Alex, that's what I am doing here. "asking for an expert opinion from those who have taught intro courses at a university", as you said it. What better place to ask than stack exchange, don't you think? Anyways, thanks for your answer, it was helpful. Would you suggest making 'How to Think Straight About Psychology' my first read? $\endgroup$
    – John Red
    Aug 28, 2014 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ I understand, but I'm afraid you're not likely to find many of those kinds of experts here. That's been my impression at least. I realize that contacting faculty members directly regarding this matter is unusual, but you're almost certainly guaranteed to get an answer and you know who you're talking to. (I'm a grad student btw). As for the book I recommended, think of it as a companion to an intro psych text (you can read it before, after or simultaneously). From what I recall, it doesn't assume any knowledge. $\endgroup$
    – AlexR
    Aug 28, 2014 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. I get what you mean. This site still does not have many users, and thus, professionals. Thanks for the background on the book too. $\endgroup$
    – John Red
    Aug 30, 2014 at 11:37

A good book I have read and still refer to from time to time is Life-span human development by Carol Sigelman and Elizabeth Rider

A new edition is published as things develop and a new edition was published this year:

Sigelman, C. K., & Rider, E. A. (2021). Life-span human development. 10th ed. Cengage Learning.


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