Psychology Textbooks Are Spreading Lies. What are the best intro psych textbooks and how to get them cheap?


When Chris Ferguson, a professor at Stetson University, was trying to choose a textbook for his introductory psychology course, he realized his own field of study, video game violence was being misportrayed in some textbooks.

“The data isn’t consistent or clear,” said Fergusen, but textbooks were picking sides and trying to portray it like it was.

Lilienfeld is the only introductory psychology textbook that Ferguson recommends as accurate that is also used by a top psychology program.

Intrigued, Ferguson decided to systematically research and publish a paper on textbook accuracy.

What he found, was shocking. Errors went beyond over-simplifications that glossed over murky data. Sometimes textbooks including examples that were flat-out wrong:

Ferguson said he often found urban legends printed like fact.

“The idea that the Columbine killers designed a level that looked like their high school, that is untrue, that’s an urban legend,” he said.

Usually, these myths were found in the examples used to illustrate principle drawn from newsmedia sources as opposed to scholarly articles.

His paper looked at twenty-four leading textbooks and their treatment of controversial topics (including the narcissism epidemic controversy which I’ve blogged about previously), whether they contain urban legends, and whether they dispel popular misconceptions.

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 3.37.33 PM

Even, some of the most celebrated, classic experiments in social psychology, Ferguson says are usually vastly oversold.

Take the ‘Stanford prison experiment,’ says Ferguson, “Awful, awful experiment. The experiment itself is bullshit… there’s no control group. He told them to be assholes.” (Ferguson isn’t the only one with this opinion.)

But Ferguson doesn’t want controversial areas to be removed from textbooks. In fact he thinks that controversies in psychology can be a great way to teach young students scientific literacy. He concludes his paper:

“What we are arguing for is textbook writing that may be, in some respects, less satisfying insofar as it would eschew purporting to have ‘the answer’ for hot-button questions students are interested in. We know many students have questions such as ‘Is spanking really harmful?’ or ‘Are men really better at math?’ Naturally students want ‘the answer’ and textbook writers may be eager to give that answer (or perhaps particularly the answer that is politically correct in the field). But often the honest answer is that ‘it’s complex and we’re not entirely sure.’ But that is science, particularly the science of the human mind. And that is what we must faithfully report.”

Do any textbooks meet Ferguson’s standards? None are perfect he says, but he recommended four:

What books to top programs use?

Surprisingly, of the textbooks recommended by Ferguson, the only one used by a top-ranked psychology program was Lilienfeld.

Textbook Number of institutions* Ferguson-Approved ? Amazon Review New* Used* Rent* Kindle* Previous Ed. Used*
gleitmanGleitman, et al. 2 – Stanford and UPenn N/A*** 4.3 $152 $53 $22 $120 $17.45
KosslynKosslyn & Rosenberg  2 – MIT and Harvard N/A*** 4.4 $197 $29 $14 ? ?
LilienfeldLilienfeld 1 – U Minnesota Yes 4.0 $186 $36 $28 $131 $9
KalatKalat 1 – Berkeley N/A*** 4.2** $133 ? $14.97 $119 $57
MyersMyers 1 – UCLA No 4.3 $134 $88 $21 $122 $16
schachterSchacter, et al.  1 – U Michigan No 4.6 $49 $29 $19 $109 $7
GrayGray, et al. 1 – Yale No 4.0** $65 $52 $18 $123 $5
bernsteinBernstein, et al. 1 – U Illinois Urbana-Champaign No 4.4** $124 $118 $31 $119 $8
Coon and MittererCoon & Mitterer  0 Yes 4.2 $131 $67 $18 $119 $34
KrauseKrause & Corts 0 Yes 4.1 $169 $84 $31 $128 $13
KingKing 0 Yes 4.4 $78 $36 $18 $178 $10
* All prices are as of 6-4-2017 ** New edition had few reviews, so used reviews from previous edition *** Wasn’t evaluated in Ferguson’s study

And finally, If you want to buy textbooks for cheap, buying them off-season is a good time!


From Cannon and Brickman, 2015 (I think I’m going to start a textbook arbitrage business.)

Pro tip: If you need textbooks for next semester, email professors to check if syllabi are available, buy them now, and then resell them next January. Plus, if you want to be a nerd, you can leaf through interesting sections and get a head-start on the upcoming semester.

And if you’re looking to study psychology on your own, as I was researching this post, I found that Yale offers a free introductory psychology course, which uses the Gray, et al. textbook. I only listened to the first lecture, so can’t speak to the course, but figured it might be of interest.

Here an extended interview with Ferguson:

What are the Best Introductory Psychology textbooks, and are they telling us the truth? I looked up the Psychology textbooks used at the top programs across the US and talked to Professor Chris Ferguson, author of Education or Indoctrination? The Accuracy of Introductory Psychology Textbooks in Covering Controversial Topics and Urban Legends About Psychology, about his recommendations for the most accurate textbooks.

If you enjoyed this post and the interview with Dr. Chris Ferguson, please help share it. Thanks so much!

3 Responses to “Psychology Textbooks Are Spreading Lies. What are the best intro psych textbooks and how to get them cheap?”


    What an interesting article!
    My major was Psychology. I wish I could have known it at that time!
    I will definitely follow your blog from now on.
    I really like it 🙂


  2. 3 David Kuebrich

    I’d like to see a similar analysis of how u.s. military interventions are presented in basic college texts. I think the bias rating would be would be remarkably high.


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