Education or Indoctrination? The Accuracy of Introductory Psychology Textbooks in Covering Controversial Topics and Urban Legends About Psychology
- 1.8k Downloads
The introductory psychology class represents the first opportunity for the field to present new students with a comprehensive overview of psychological research. Writing introductory psychology textbooks is challenging given that authors need to cover many areas they themselves may not be intimately familiar with. This challenge is compounded by problems within the scholarly community in which controversial topics may be communicated in ideological terms within scholarly discourse. Psychological science has historically seen concerns raised about the mismatch between claims and data made about certain fields of knowledge, apprehensions that continue in the present “replication crisis.” The concern is that, although acting in good faith, introductory psychology textbook authors may unwittingly communicate information to readers that is factually untrue. Twenty-four leading introductory psychology textbooks were surveyed for their coverage of a number of controversial topics (e.g., media violence, narcissism epidemic, multiple intelligences) and scientific urban legends (e.g., Kitty Genovese, Mozart Effect) for their factual accuracy. Results indicated numerous errors of factual reporting across textbooks, particularly related to failing to inform students of the controversial nature of some research fields and repeating some scientific urban legends as if true. Recommendations are made for improving the accuracy of introductory textbooks.
KeywordsTextbooks Teaching of psychology Education Introductory psychology
Compliance with Ethical Standards
This manuscript did not involve human participants research. All research was designed to comport with ethical standards for social research.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors have no funding or conflicts of interest to declare.
- Australian Government, Attorney General’s Department. (2010). Literature Review on the Impact of Playing Violent Video Games on Aggression. Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
- Gray, P. (2013). Why Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment Isn’t in My Textbook. Psychology Today.Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201310/why-zimbardo-s-prisonexperiment-isn-t-in-my-textbook Accessed 13 December 2016.Google Scholar
- Grimes, T., Anderson, J., & Bergen, L. (2008). Media violence and aggression: Science and ideology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
- Ioannidis, J. (2008). Effectiveness of antidepressants: An evidence myth constructed from a thousand randomized trials? Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 3, 1–9. Retrieved 1/20/13 from: http://www.peh-med.com/content/3/1/14.
- Jarrett, T. (2008). Foundations of sand? The Psychologist. Retrieved from: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-21/edition-9/foundations-sand.
- Lifton, R. J. (1961). Thought reform and the psychology of totalism: A study of “brainwashing” in China. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
- Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstein, B. L. (2009a). 50 great myths of popular psychology: Shattering widespread misconceptions about human behavior. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Namy, L. L., & Woolf, N. (2012). Psychology: From inquiry to understanding (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.Google Scholar
- Macmillan, M. (2008). Phineas Gage: Unraveling the myth. The Psychologist, 21, 828-831.Google Scholar
- Matlin, M. W. (2004). Pollyanna Principle. In R. Pohl (Ed.), Cognitive illusions: Handbook on falicies and biases in thinking, judgment, and memory (pp. 255–272). Hove, UK: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
- Nature. (2005). In praise of soft science. Nature, 435(7045), 1003.Google Scholar
- Tavris, C. (2014). Teaching contentious classics. APS Observer. Retrieved from: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/publications/observer/2014/october-14/teaching-contentious-classics.html.
- Thomas, R. (2001). Reoccurring errors among recent history of psychology textbooks. American Journal of Psychology, 120(3), 477–495.Google Scholar