So I’m revising my social psychology textbook and am concerned about being fair and accurate to my readers. The problem has been compounded recently by our new understanding of the difficulty of replication due to the small effect sizes of our studies.

Social textbooks typically cite a prototypical or classic study as an example of what is assumed to be a general principle.  For instance:

  • Bandura’s bobo doll study (Bandura, A., & Walters, R. H. (1959). Adolescent aggression. New York, NY: Ronald Press) as an example of observational learning.
  • Strack, Martin and Strepper’s “pen in the mouth” study as an example of facial feedback or embodied cognition: (Strack, F., Martin, L. L., & Stepper, S. (1988). Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: a nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(5), 768-777.

Students like this because it gives them an easy way to understand the concept and instructors like it because it shows experimentation in action and provides an opportunity to present a figure showing the results.

But doing so is almost always wrong because if the topic is at all interesting there are more than one study and the studies are almost certainly conflicting.

As an example the first study reported in Branscombe and Baron, Social Psychology 14th Edition is Manago, Taylor, and Greenfield (2012), described this way:

“…research shows that among college students the number of Facebook friends predicts life satisfaction.”

Really?  Try a google search for “are people with more facebook friends happier” and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s irresponsible to make statements in textbooks based on the results of one study.

The problem then becomes, what to do. In another post I’ve proposed reporting effect sizes for each of the topics we discuss, although the difficulties with that are enormous.

More thoughts to come.

Honesty in social psychology textbooks