We have some interesting research and personal experience that will help you choose. Without going into the details, here is LAYMN’s take on the best psychology textbooks on the market – choose what is required by your professor or opt for Lilienfeld’s Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding.
This is the introductory psychology textbook that accompanied me in my first 3 years of bachelor’s studies. It is well-written, clear, and entertaining. The illustrations are beautiful and as an introduction, it really eases you into the world of psychology. It is a good textbook for beginners because it gives a really comprehensive view of the field. However, this comprehension comes at the cost of depth. This is to be expected. No one book can go broad and deep without becoming a monster-size beast.
Furthermore, J. Gross gave a lecture at my university. So I might be biased towards this book. This textbook is used at Stanford and UPenn. However, despite these authorities recommending this book, stay skeptical. A rule of thumb to follow is to ask: are there replications of this study? If there are no replications mentioned then that is a very clear red flag. The study of the mind is complex because psychologists are researching something that is essentially a black box.
I am glad this textbook exists. Sometimes the educational system is heavily geared towards profit at the expense of the education of its students. Therefore, I am really glad that there is an affordable textbook in the market that is a best seller. Where I am from we have tax-supported libraries that offer free textbooks for any course. Assuming the professor has requested the textbooks to be bought into the library. On cursory inspection, I would say it really covers everything you would want from an introductory textbook in psychology.
According to a 2018 study, by Chris Ferguson, a professor of psychology at Stetson University, most psychology textbooks are rife with scientific inaccuracy – scientific urban myths, plain falsehoods, and unscientific studies (e.g. Stanford Prison experiment) are often included. Scott Lilienfeld’s Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding is used by the top-ranking psychology program, the University of Minnesota, and is one of the 4 textbooks Ferguson recommends. However, he states that none are perfect.
The second book recommended by Ferguson. It perhaps stands out because it was made to enhance the student’s ability to learn. The book practices what it preaches by integrating the SQ4R learning system (Survey, Question, Read, Reflect, Review, Recite). This allegedly promotes critical thinking. I do not find much fault in this logic, as I am a big proponent of thinking skeptically and deeply. The book guides readers in a step-by-step fashion to foster an understanding of psychology’s foundational concepts.
The third book recommended by Ferguson. If you’re a science purist or more experimentally minded. Then this is the book for you. This book has a stronger emphasis on the empirical nature of psychology.
At the time of writing this article. This textbook was used at both MIT and Harvard. Both are clearly great universities, considered the absolute top in psychology. But this textbook was not included in Ferguson’s preferred four. I would only recommend going with this textbook if you are taking classes where reading this copy is required. If you have options go for something else. It might be tempting to follow “authority” but my experience shows that people in positions of authority can also make mistakes. Trust data more.
Last but not least, is the last recommended book by Ferguson. However, time has passed since Ferguson wrote his article. I linked the older edition. There are new editions. One would assume that the quality has remained the same, but I cannot tell you if that is the case.
Instead, I suggest you read the following paragraphs on some of the nuances that go into choosing an introductory psychology textbook.
How to choose an introductory psychology textbook?
Scientists are people and people are famously known to be flawed. Fortunately, scientific thinking distinguishes itself from other modes of thinking by how willing it is to prove itself wrong. This is great for advancing knowledge but also troublesome if you want to find the perfect introductory textbook for studying psychology.
For instance, if we take a look at this article by Ben Kuebrich, we will find that Chris Ferguson, a professor at Stetson University, would recommend “Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding (3rd Edition)” against a number of other textbooks.
I borrowed the book from a friend and on cursory inspection, it seemed great. But since I don’t have the expertise to analyze every topic in the book I decided to test it against the minimal expertise that I do have.
How did they cover the Rosenhan experiment?
Rosenhan’s infamous experiment (1973) is noteworthy, because like some other famous social experiments it too has been found to be unscientific. Without going into detail it would seem that Rosenhan fabricated his data. But not only that, if the textbooks that cover the experiment had done more thorough research they would have found another article by one of the pseudo patients, who contrary to the original article, wrote about his positive experience (Lando, 1976).
In theory what should differentiate an academic textbook from a popular science book is that the studies and articles that get into an academic textbook have been confirmed by replications. The Rosenhan experiment does not meet these criteria. This means the textbook might include more bad science that hasn’t been verified.
How have they defined statistical significance?
In a 2019 study, researchers analyzed 30 introduction-to-psychology textbooks and found that 89% of them failed to properly define or explain the statistical significance.  They cited 8 different fallacies, the most common one being that statistical significance shows the likelihood of the results being due to chance.
A relation or effect is statistically significant if it rejects the null hypothesis. Meaning that there is no relationship between 2 variables according to the predetermined (but arbitrarily chosen) level of significance (commonly 0.05 or conservatively 0.01 in psychology).
A common mistake is to attribute chance whenever a level of significance is attained but what they describe as chance is simply low likelihood which is not the same thing.
The Bottom Line
Using my own arbitrary criteria, I found that “Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding (3rd Edition)” failed to cover statistical significance in a way that was mathematically accurate and it also included studies that have not withstood the test of time.
My recommendation then is to use introductory textbooks according to the specific topic you want to address and cross-reference against other books for a more complete picture.
- Cassidy, S. A., Dimova, R., Giguère, B., Spence, J. R., & Stanley, D. J. (2019). Failing grade: 89% of introduction-to-psychology textbooks that define or explain statistical significance do so incorrectly. Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science, 2(3), 233-239.
- Ferguson, C. J., Brown, J. M., & Torres, A. V. (2018). Education or indoctrination? The accuracy of introductory psychology textbooks in covering controversial topics and urban legends about psychology. Current Psychology, 37(3), 574-582.
- Wasserstein, R. L., & Lazar, N. A. (2016). The ASA statement on p-values: context, process, and purpose. The American Statistician, 70(2), 129-133.
- Lilienfeld, S., Lynn, S. J., Namy, L., Woolf, N., Jamieson, G., Marks, A., & Slaughter, V. (2014). Psychology: From inquiry to understanding (Vol. 2). Pearson Higher Education AU.
- Rosenhan, D. L. (1973). On being sane in insane places. Science, 179(4070), 250-258.
- Lando, H. A. (1976). On being sane in insane places: A supplemental report. Professional Psychology, 7(1), 47–52. https://doi.org/10.1037/0735-7028.7.1.47
Last update on 2023-09-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API