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Newbies, watch out for popular books

Best selling introductory psychology books give a misleading view of intelligence
From an article by Christian Jarrett

A researcher in human intelligence at Utah Valley University has analyzed the 29 best-selling introductory psychology textbooks in the US – some written by among the most eminent psychologists alive – and concluded that they present a highly misleading view of the science of intelligence.

Russell T Warne and his co-authors found that three-quarters of the books contain inaccuracies; that the books give disproportionate coverage to unsupported theories, and nearly 80 per cent contain logical fallacies in their discussions of the topic.

Reporting their findings in an open-access article in Archives of Scientific Psychology, Warne and his colleagues say that altogether the widely used books contained “43 inaccurate statements, 129 questionably accurate statements and 51 logical fallacies” and therefore “members of the public are likely to learn some inaccurate information about intelligence in their psychology courses.”

In terms of topic coverage, most of the books covered theories which are not well-supported by evidence, according to Warne. In contrast, fewer than a quarter of the books covered the most strongly supported contemporary, hierarchical theories, which posit the influence of a general intelligence on other cognitive abilities.

The most common factual inaccuracy (appearing in nearly half the books) was that intelligence tests are biased against particular groups or individuals. This contradicts the 1997 consensus statement which tackles this issue and concludes that “intelligence tests are not biased”.

Other common inaccuracies included promotion of the idea that it is not possible to measure intelligence in a meaningful way (in fact, Warne and his colleagues point out that “it is actually easier to measure intelligence than many other psychological constructs”), and claims that intelligence is only relevant in academic settings (in fact, intelligence correlates with many non-academic life outcomes, from life expectancy to risk of dying in a car accident, and is among the strongest predictors of career success).
Among the logical fallacies in the books is the idea that because humans share about 99 per cent of the same genes, that genes cannot therefore have a role in the differences between individuals or groups. In fact, “slight differences in genotypes among organisms can result in major phenotype differences”, according to Warne and his team. Twelve other fallacies appeared in the books; such as giving less scrutiny to politically correct ideas or claiming that intelligence doesn’t exist because it is a collection of abilities (suggesting the textbook authors had failed to understand the principle of 'general intelligence').

In terms of questionable accuracy (i.e. errors not covered by the consensus statements), Warne highlights issues around the discussion of the taboo topic of race and IQ; textbook authors overplaying the role of 'stereotype threat', and authors having a tendency to overestimate environmental influences on intelligence (the books largely neglected the work of scholars who study the genetic influences on intelligence).
Over a million students take introductory psych courses every year in the USA alone (a majority of whom are taking the course as part of a different degree subject), and judging by the content of most popular introductory psych textbooks in America, it seems likely these students are getting a highly distorted view of the field.

An obvious issue with this study is that it’s not clear if the same inaccuracies and bias toward intelligence research also appear in British and European introductory textbooks.
“Improving the public’s understanding about intelligence starts in psychology’s own backyard with improving the content of undergraduate courses and textbooks,” Warne and his colleagues conclude.

—What do undergraduates learn about human intelligence? An analysis of introductory psychology textbooks
full article here:
https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/03/08/be … elligence/


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