The Best Psychology Textbooks 2021

showcase examples of psychology textbooks

Straight off the bat neither this article or any other article on this topic will be able to give you the perfect textbook that you’re looking for. In the following article I will also explain why.

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 annoying 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 very limited 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 a 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 this criteria. Which 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 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 arbitrary chosen) level of significance (commonly 0.05 or conservatively 0.01 in psychology).

A common mistake is to attribute chance when ever a level of significance is attained but what they describe as chance is simply low likelihood which are 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.

References

  1. 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.
  2. Rosenhan, D. L. (1973). On being sane in insane places. Science179(4070), 250-258.
  3. 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 Science2(3), 233-239.
  4. 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

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