Education or Indoctrination? The Accuracy of Introductory Psychology Textbooks in Covering Controversial Topics and Urban Legends About Psychology

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Christopher J. Ferguson.

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Ferguson, C.J., Brown, J.M. & Torres, A.V. Education or Indoctrination? The Accuracy of Introductory Psychology Textbooks in Covering Controversial Topics and Urban Legends About Psychology. Curr Psychol 37, 574–582 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-016-9539-7

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Keywords

  • Textbooks
  • Teaching of psychology
  • Education
  • Introductory psychology