I have a secret hope that one day one of my readers will write a psychology textbook, and that intelligence will be mentioned in an up-to-date and accurate manner.
Years ago, when reading a new UK textbook that took an apologetic and partial view of racial differences in intelligence I planned to look at the UK scene, but got distracted by having to learn what was really happening in the field, a task from which I never recovered, because I am still wading through the torrent of new publications.
What is the current situation regarding the coverage of intelligence in US textbooks? Here are two heroic figures, who have waded through this forest of paper to bring us some interesting results. This cannot have been easy work, so what sort of stimulants did they use to maintain their concentration? On observing them, I think they kept going out of a macabre fascination with just how badly intelligence is presented in US textbooks.
Warne and Astle looked at 29 best-selling undergraduate textbooks, which is where psychology students learn about intelligence, because less than 10% of graduate courses offer an intelligence option.
3.3% of textbook space is dedicated to intelligence. Given its influence, this is not very much.
The most common topics start well, with IQ and Spearman’s g, but do not go on to the best validated, evidence-led Cattell-Horn-Carol meta-analytic summary, but a side-stream, speculative triarchic theory from Sternberg; and a highly speculative and non-specific sketch of an idea about multiple intelligences Gardner. The last is a particular puzzle, since it really is a whimsical notion that motor skill is no different from analytical problem solving. All must have prizes.
Commonly, environmental influences are discussed, genetic ones rarely.
Interesting to compare this list with the Sackett and Snow predictive equation for employment selection, in which the addition of a multiple intelligence test contributes 1% to the final prediction.
Warne and Astle compare the actual contents against Gottfredson’s (2009) common mistakes about intelligence research and find that some errors are particularly frequent, found between a third and a quarter of the time: the idea that intelligence test items are arbitrary, and that other lists would provide an equally arbitrary result; that any variation in scores shows that they could be altered permanently by interventions; that if a skill can be improved it means that skill gaps can be closed; that because people are 99.9% alike genetically it means that important differences between them cannot be caused by genetics.
79% of the textbooks had inaccurate statements, often on the topics of test bias and that intelligence was only important in academic contexts. If we take the broader category of questionable accuracy, then all the textbooks contained questionable statements, mostly about race, environmental influences on intelligence, stereotype threat, and Lewontin’s parable of the seeds (which I think will last for ever).
Here is their paper:
Here is their conference presentation:
The authors mildly conclude: Our study may provide insight into why popular beliefs about intelligence often do not match expert opinions.
My conclusion is more acerbic: too many writers of psychology textbooks fear intelligence research and loathe what the results imply. They regard it as their democratic duty to twist the results to serve their own, presumably saintly, objectives. I think they have fallen into Noble Cause Corruption, but doubt they feel any shame at respecting their presumptions more highly than the facts.
P.S. The following day, David Lubinski was interviewing Stephen Pinker, and as the topic turned to public perceptions of intelligence Pinker said that he would really like to see how the topic was covered in psychology textbooks, and that someone should investigate it. In a delicious moment, we all pointed at Warne! A good boost for any researcher, on whom I hope fortune will smile.