New UVU Research Examines Inaccuracies in Psychology Textbooks

OREM — A new Utah Valley University study finds that nearly 80% of textbooks for introductory psychology classes contain basic factual inaccuracies in their discussions of intelligence. 

UVU psychology professors Russell T. Warne and Jessica C. Hill and UVU student Mayson C. Astle came to this conclusion after comparing the sections in 29 college-level introductory psychology textbooks to widely available summaries of research findings that had widespread support from experts. 23 of the 29 textbooks (79.3%) contained at least one inaccuracy.

“Psychology is such a broad field that it is impossible for one person to be an expert on every topic. So, we expected some inaccuracies. But finding that over three-quarters of textbooks said something that was easily shown to be incorrect was surprising to us,” Warne said.

The most common inaccurate claim was a blanket statement—made by nearly half of textbook authors—that intelligence tests were biased against racial or cultural minorities. Warne explained, “Test creators have been aware of the need for culturally and linguistically sensitive testing procedures for decades. Psychologists have found solutions to problem of testing people from diverse cultures and backgrounds, and there are many tests that can measure intelligence of minority groups fairly.” 

Another common error was that IQ scores are only useful in an academic and do not predict people’s performance outside of school. However, this contradicts a century of research showing that intelligence test scores predict outcomes as diverse as job performance, physical health and longevity, income in adulthood.

The researchers also produced a list of the most frequently discussed topics. The most common theory mentioned in textbooks was Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which states that there are several intelligences—such as linguistic intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, or musical intelligence—that determine which areas a person can excel at. “There is no evidence to support this highly popular theory,” Warne explained. “Most textbooks presented Gardner’s theory uncritically. We would hope that textbooks written by scientists would be skeptical about unsupported theories.”

The study is a product of UVU’s continual emphasis on engaged learning and the scholarship of teaching. Astle, the student co-author, said, “I loved working on this project because it not only gave me experience to help with my future career and education, but the opportunity to engage with what I was learning in my undergraduate classes. I feel like I have made a meaningful contribution to psychology.”

Warne and his colleagues hope that their work will improve the psychology education of future students. “We are going to send textbook authors a list of problematic passages from their book along with a copy of our article,” Warne said. “We’re not just in the business of taking potshots at other people’s work. We have the same goals as the textbook authors: to provide psychology students with an excellent education.”

The researchers’ findings were published February 26, 2018, in Archives of Scientific Psychology, a journal published by the American Psychological Association. The article is open access, which means that anyone can read it for free at