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Peoplewatching: A Good Book about Normal Human Behavior for Autistic Adults to Learn From

Updated on November 24, 2015

Normal human behavior explained and analyzed - a wonderful tool for autistic adults.

As an autistic person, many aspects of human behavior and culture do not come naturally to me. What the average person knows or learns instinctively, the autistic person must learn through study or miss out on a world of human interaction.

Some aspects of non-verbal communication are so vital that unless a person with autism can imitate them with some degree of accuracy, he or she will encounter severe difficulties - in getting a job, in keeping a job, in workplace advancement, in courting a mate, and in maintaining relationships.

The book that changed my life and finally put all of the human behaviors I was trying to mimic into perspective is Peoplewatching by Desmond Morris. Morris is likely not an autistic person himself, but a scientist who has examined human behavior as a scientist would examine the behavior of any animal. He explains it all in clear language and does not flinch from uncomfortable facts.


I am not a therapist or medical professional, simply a person who has a high-functioning type of autism sometimes called Asperger's Syndrome. I am recommending this book only as an autistic person who has found it to be an immensely useful resource in understanding other people and in making myself understood. In no way should this advice be construed as replacement for professional medical advice or psychological counseling.

This book is NOT about autism, but about normal human behaviors.


Why Aren't There More Books for Autistic Adults to Learn About Human Behavior from?

Since non-autistic people instinctively or near instinctively know or learn standard behavior such as eye contact, tone of voice and body language, there isn't much material aimed at teaching those behaviors.

We are extremely fortunate that some people have wondered why human beings do the things we do. Because of this, scientists have analyzed thousands of behaviors common to almost all human beings.

Peoplewatching is a book written by one such scientist.

image by Benito LeGrande, SXC
image by Benito LeGrande, SXC

Peoplewatching Explains Why as Well as What

The beauty of a book written to explain why people do the things they do is that not only does the book describe behaviors and the circumstances in which they occur but it attempts to explain the reasons behind them.

I have found that I learn things much better when I know the reasoning behind what I'm learning. I believe that this is pretty common and a useful learning or teaching strategy for people, with or without autism.

Peoplewatching by Desmond Morris

Please note once again that the book is not about autism, I'm recommending it to people who have high-functioning autism.

Several people have bought and returned it, upset that it's not about autism so I've added a few statements on this page. Fortunately, most folks will take that 'for' in the title to mean 'for' and not to mean 'about' but I figured I'd mention it a few times, just in case.

Peoplewatching : The Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language
Peoplewatching : The Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language

Peoplewatching is the book that (finally!) describes normal human behaviors and attempts to explain why people do the things they do.


Peoplewatching Explains Things People You Know Can't or Won't Explain

Peoplewatching is a great book for adult autistics because it unabashedly examines, defines, and analyzes normal human behavior all laid out in an engaging book easily understandable to the layman. It touches on topics many people are unaware of and it plainly explains behaviors which many people might be reluctant or too uninformed to explain to an adult friend or family member.

Not only does it examine behaviors such as eye contact and tone of voice in regular social circumstances, it examines behaviors that relate to love and sexuality as well. That's right, you can learn about things like flirting with (and noticing romantic interest in) potential partners from this book!

I would strongly recommend Peoplewatching by Desmond Morris to any adult struggling with autism or Asperger Syndrome. It has cleared up a lot of things for me such as how much eye contact is normal and what kind of things I may be doing that might make someone think I'm flirting with them if I'm not.

A Pocket Guide to Manwatching - A smaller version of Peoplewatching

The pocket version is also not about people with AS, but about neurotypical behavior.

Pocket Guide To Manwatching
Pocket Guide To Manwatching

This is basically a condensed version of Peoplewatching. It's a bit of a trade-off. This book is far more portable but I find I do miss some of the big photos and illustrations from the full-sized version.


Peoplewatching is not about autism but about normal human behaviors.

Do you think Peoplewatching by Desmond Morris could be a useful tool for adults with autism?

What Do You Think?

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    • Einar A profile image

      Einar A 5 years ago

      As someone who has always found "typical" human behavior to be quite a puzzle, this book sounds like one that I ought to study. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Hi Kylyssa,Thanks very much for this post. My partner is an undiagnosed Aspie and finding resources that will help him (and me) understand himself better is proving rather difficult, considering the majority of stuff is written for parents of Aspie children. Luckily, this seems to be starting to change now, and more books being addressed for adult Aspies who have fallen through the cracks.This book looks great. Fascinating. I am adding it to the to-read list.Just wondering, while I'm here, if you have ever read "Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Adult Asperger Syndrome". I've been trying to find books on Amazon where Aspie readers are favourable. There's so much written for non-Aspies - how about the books written FOR Aspies? They're the ones I want to read. The book I noted just above is written by an NT for therapists who are treating Aspies, but I notice there are two Aspie reviewers who found it really helpful to understand themseves better. Just wondering what your thoughts are on it if you've read it.Anyway, thanks very much for your site. I shall be back.

    • Kevin Wilson 2 profile image

      Kevin Wilson 2 6 years ago

      Great recommendation, I have someone to pass this on to right now!

    • groovyfind profile image

      Samantha Devereux 7 years ago from Columbia Mo

      My teenager is on the spectrum...I think I may get this for him! Thanks so much!

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 7 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      @NarrowPathPubli: Most public libraries will have a copy of either Manwatching or Peoplewatching. I found it very useful in choosing which body language to mimic. From reading it, I was horrified to discover that many of the behaviors I had been mimicking (that I learned by watching other girls) were flirtation! I cut that out right away and learned to mimic more appropriate things like attentive listening, concern, alertness, and even boredom - things that actually reflected what I was feeling.

    • NarrowPathPubli profile image

      NarrowPathPubli 7 years ago

      Great lens! I have Asperger's too and struggle with non-verbal communication as well as communication in general. I will definitely check this out.

    • newbizmau profile image

      Maurice Glaude 7 years ago from Mobile, AL

      This is a great topic and explained very well. Maybe to be more specific you could explain who the book wouldn't help since they don't get how it can help them. You've done a fantastic job with this lens and should be Lens of the Day!

    • Othercatt profile image

      Othercatt 7 years ago

      Great lens. You explained it well and I bought the book. Hopefully it can help.......

    • Pete D profile image

      Pete D 7 years ago

      Great lens and well presented. rated :)

    • NanLT profile image

      Nan 7 years ago from London, UK

      This is a fascinating book. Rated and blessed as you've done an excellent job in reviewing it.

    • Peregrina LM profile image

      Peregrina LM 7 years ago

      It sounds like a fascinating book. Great lens!

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 7 years ago

      I think you did a super job of expressing yourself about the book...very well done lens!

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 7 years ago from Iowa

      Nicely done lens and description of the book. I would think will be quite useful for those with autism.

    • woodpecker lm profile image

      woodpecker lm 7 years ago

      Nice job. Anyone who is autistic or knows someone who is, would benefit from this lens!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      Sounds like a really useful book for autistic adults and an interesting read for all, thanks for this review.

    • profile image

      JewelRiver 7 years ago

      Great site 5 stars!