Study: Textbooks Are Super Biased

Unless I miss my guess, many of us have never been huge fans of textbooks.

They’re boring. Impersonal.

And as a new study published in Current Psychology reports, textbooks may also be… biased.

Researchers Christopher Ferguson, Jeffrey Brown, and Amanda Torres set out to explore this bias specifically in regard to the basic psychology textbooks read by thousands of college freshman every semester.

Previous indicators led them to suspect that many psychology textbooks use examples that have been shown to be myths. They also suspected that many psychological issues (such as stereotypes, media violence, spanking, and antidepressant usage) are presented in an unfair manner, often weighted toward the more liberal social and political leanings of those who work in the psychological field.

Unfortunately, their findings confirm their suspicions. Very few textbooks present a fair and balanced view of major psychological issues, as shown by the percentages in the “unbiased” column below. More often than not, psychology textbooks give an unequal picture of the two sides of an issue (partially biased column), while others don’t even bother to present the alternative side at all (biased column). 

Biased Textbooks

Consider, for example, the issue of “Stereotype Threat.” According to the authors, this concept fits with the “politically correct narrative” that traditional gender stereotypes lead girls to be less effective in areas such as math. This has been challenged by some researchers, but as the numbers above demonstrate, their view is not given equal air time. In fact, 62.5 percent of textbooks reviewed didn’t cover the alternative view at all, while only 12.5 percent gave a slight mention to the less popular viewpoint.

Naturally, these findings are alarming, leading the researchers to plead for more academic honesty: 

“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.”

Such findings in regard to the biased nature of psychology textbooks should cause us to go deeper and examine textbooks in other areas as well. Is it possible that today’s students – not only in college, but in elementary and high school as well – are receiving a lopsided view of history, civics, science, and many other subjects because their textbooks are failing to give a balanced view?

Image Credit: Tulane Publications