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80 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Intriguing New Theory of Personality
Judith Rich Harris is the controversial author of "The Nurture Assumption." She holds no PhD degree and is affiliated with no prestigious institutions, yet her book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. "No Two Alike" is somewhat of a memoir of her research and the writing of these two books. She has obviously been meticulous about her fact-finding and more than one...
Published on February 27, 2006 by The Spinozanator

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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointing
I really love "The Nurture Assumption". I bought multiple copies to my relatives, friends and colleagues, and some of them bought additional copies to their friends and colleagues. I thought the major thesis of that book was confused, but the insight into the role of peer groups was both highly original and true. Harrris' failure at Harvard and her subsequent success,...
Published on September 10, 2006 by Sioran


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80 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Intriguing New Theory of Personality, February 27, 2006
This review is from: No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality (Hardcover)
Judith Rich Harris is the controversial author of "The Nurture Assumption." She holds no PhD degree and is affiliated with no prestigious institutions, yet her book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. "No Two Alike" is somewhat of a memoir of her research and the writing of these two books. She has obviously been meticulous about her fact-finding and more than one bad study and sloppy researcher has suffered embarrassment (if not exposure) under her scrutiny.

In "Nurture Assumption," Harris took on most authorities in developmental psychology, who seemed to think that if a kid didn't turn out just right (whatever that meant) that kid was assumed to have received sub-par parenting...certain interventions could and should have been done that would have brought about a better result. Never in world history had so much blame been placed on parents, and Harris didn't buy it. In her opinion, childhood environmental influence that lasts into adulthood didn't come from parents. It came from the child's peer group, and she produced reams of research to prove it.

Harris wrote child development texts for several years, drawing on authorities from many fields of study. The discrepancies amongst disciplines led her to believe that the academics must never read each others' research. One day she realized she simply didn't believe what she was writing. This nagging thought led her to do her own survey of the literature, which eventually inspired her to write "Nurture Assumption."

She continues along the same lines of thought in "No Two Alike," but concentrates on related questions: If personality characteristics aren't molded at home, how are they molded? What is so important about the peer group? Why do even identical twins sometimes have diversely different personalities and outcomes? In "No Two Alike," Harris approaches the above questions as if she were a detective - and ends up presenting the first full theory of personality since Freud.

Her recurring theme about the status of developmental research: All research that looks at individual differences has to have some way of controlling for the direct and indirect effects of heredity, yet most past and present studies in socialization and developmental psychology don't control for genes and are not double blind. Partly because of the design of most studies, partly because variables in the environment are limitless, preconceptual bias is a real problem.

First half of the book: She lists the five red herrings academic psychologists have advocated as influential in child development - then carefully dismisses them all, showing that none of the simpler theories hold up to valid research. "I can eliminate all the currently popular theories of personality development with a single flick of my hand, because they all rest on the same basic assumption about learning: that learned behaviors or learned associations transfer readily and automatically from one situation to another." Learning is context sensitive.

Important aspects of her theory: Harris draws on many fields, particularly evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics. She apologizes that her theory is not simple, and blames it on Einstein, who said, "Make things as simple as you can, but no simpler," and suggests that by the year 2050, elaborations on it (her theory) will make her theory of today look simple indeed.

Genes: Genes are responsible for ~45% of personality. We are looking for the perpetrator of the ~55% "unexplained variance" of personality.

Modules: In searching for the perp, we will assume various specialty "modules" in the brain. Like Chomsky's linguistic module, they perform unique functions. They are intricate networks in the brain - some are known to have a specific location but others may be more diffuse. Some of the modules are: facial recognition, mental lexicon about people, mind-reading mechanism, categorization (stereotyping), prototype calculator, eye-gaze detector and counter, language, relationship sociometer, group-acceptance sociometer, and status sociometer. These tools are available for use by the three separate departments of the mind.

The three departments: The relationship system, the socialization system, and the status (competing) system are all products of evolution, have three different tasks, work in different ways, and we need all three to explain how environment shapes personality. Each receives a different combination of information from the modules, sometimes the information is conflicting, they process the information differently, they trigger different emotions, and all three provide their own inherent motivation.

The relationship system is responsible for making and maintaining individual favorable relationships, and is under conscious control. The socialization system makes you want to gain group acceptance and shows you how, and operates mostly outside of conscious awareness. The status system ensures that you will compete with rivals and attempt to maximize your status, under mostly conscious control. One or more of these systems is the perpetrator that is capable of causing personality differences that are unrelated to differences in genes and causes even identical twins to have differing personalities. The author explains her theory thoroughly and persuasively, and names the culprit(s) at the end.

This book and "Nurture Assumption" are a breath of fresh air for those of us who have had difficult children. My record is four difficult out of six. I'm not bragging that our parenting skills were great, but my wife and I tried to the best of our abilities. Those four out of the house are all happy, productive, we see them frequently - but that doesn't reflect the angst over the prospect of the guilt we certainly thought we would be deserving of had any of them (perish the thought) ended up unhappy (jailed, mentally ill, depressed, etc.).

I predict both these books will become classics - and "No Two Alike" will impress, enthrall, and enlighten you - five well-deserved stars.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointing, September 10, 2006
By 
Sioran (Cambridge, MA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality (Hardcover)
I really love "The Nurture Assumption". I bought multiple copies to my relatives, friends and colleagues, and some of them bought additional copies to their friends and colleagues. I thought the major thesis of that book was confused, but the insight into the role of peer groups was both highly original and true. Harrris' failure at Harvard and her subsequent success, certified, among others, by the very people who found her incompetent many years ago, felt moving and most inspiring. Harris' childhood experience of peer-rejection as well as her illness brought additional layer of charm and humanity to her excellent writing. The writing remained quite good in the "No Two Alike" and the sense of humor is still there, although I find it to be a little bit too crude in both books. But most of the other qualities are lost.

In "No Two Alike" Harris admits that she had previously confused socialization (a process that makes people alike) and personality development (a process that makes people different), and now proposes a new theory that will address the latter. Again, her goal is to explain why there are personality differences between identical twins (including those raised together). The proposed theory is different from the previous one and less obviously confused. It is also much less original and must less interesting. According to Harris this time, what makes identical twins differ is, at the bottom, that other people's opinions of them are different. And they are different, because twins are different individuals for whom other people store information separately. She doesn't say it this way, and in any case, she appears to think that this is a very different explanation from simply saying that unexplained variance in personality is due to noise. But for most purposes, including all practical purposes, this is what her solution implies.

This is a rather disappointing ending, especially since Harris early on explicitly rejects noise as the sole cause of these differences. We are led, or mislead, to believe that she is going to identify a major, so far overlooked factor or factors, something like peer culture, but actually capable of producing differences among identical twins that peer groups can't produce, because identical twins belong to the same peer group. It takes Harris 208 pages (the book without notes has 265) to even start talking about the actual explanation for the differences. The first 208 pages contain mostly unnecessary, repetitive and annoyingly boastful rehash of issues already covered it the previous book as well as many other places. I often found myself impatiently peeking at the last pages of the book where the solution will finally be revealed.

There are reasons why Harris thinks she is proposing something new, and to an extent she is, but it is not a new view of the causes for personality differences among identical twins. It is not even a new personality theory, because personality theory to which Harris implicitly ascribes is a standard trait model of personality. It is, roughly, a theory of a person's social cognition. It postulates three separate systems that in different ways process social information. These three systems are relationship system, which keeps track of information regarding particular persons, socialization system that keeps track of cultural averages for categories of people, and status-system, which keeps track of what other people think about you, averages those opinions, and modifies behavior to optimize your status in particular contexts. The idea that people have something akin to dictionary of other people is cute, and the idea that we use mind-reading to uncover what other people have "written" about us in their dictionaries is one of the very few original ideas in the book.

The theory is silent on any specifics of the environment that would produce a personality in an identical twin that is higher, on, say, neuroticism, than that of his brother. The theory claims, basically, that something must have happened that made higher neuroticism produce better results status-wise (when averaged across all contexts) for the more neurotic twin. That something is often a result of a random event whose consequences got reinforced because twins are perceived as separate individuals in the eyes of others, and these different perceptions amount to different, non-shared environments to which they are exposed. The additional claim that status-system basically adaptively magnifies differences from others, including one's twin, leaves unclear of why many choose to be mediocre doctors as opposed to outstanding janitors. These observations are not meant to be refutations of the theory but illustrations that the level of precision in the short, truly substantive part of the book is distressingly low, especially when compared to the needlessly elaborate introduction. It feels as if Harris prematurely published her book, without seriously thinking through the implications of her model.

There is no doubt that we know and want to know about other people, that we know and want to know what they think of us and that any theory of human social life has to acknowledge these skills and interests. But there are many ways these can be acknowledged, and Harris's theory already has several problems. As she herself admits, impairment to those presumably independent modules seems to come (as in autistic children) together rather than independently. Another one is that, despite her hope, brain-scan studies do not, by itself, deliver the number of modules and separate processes in the mind: the interpretation of these differences in brain activation crucially depends on the theory used. There are always some differences, if you want to look closely enough, and none, if you don't. A third one is an inconsistent treatment of socialization module by Harris. She claims that everybody gets socialized, and then, in parallel, that failure to get socialized produces subtle personality differences. To illustrate these difference Harris uses her own example, interpreting her "independent mind" as a result of, you know, intrinsic lack of desire to conform to the prosaic norms of the group.

Which brings me to the last point. Harris herself is a nice example that personality can indeed change well into the sixties, depending on one's perception in the eyes of others. While I, for the most part, liked the persona that emerged from "The Nurture Assumption" this one is rather less appealing. Plainly, Harris comes across as narcissistic and self-righteous. She needlessly spoon-feeds her divine properties to the readers, describing herself as independent-minded and broadly educated, rather than letting us conclude that on our own (as many of us already had). She insists that she has been under-estimated by the establishment, and that is no doubt true, but, boy, does she under-estimate the establishment! Apparently, she spent a lot of time interacting with a couple of straw-men and her socialization module told her that that is what her competitors look like. They don't. I was almost embarrassed when I read her boastful pronouncements of variety of fields she is allegedly competent in, while almost all information she presented from those various fields were elementary and common-place. I, for example, am only a graduate student who only has at best a tertiary interest in personality development, yet I was familiar with almost all points and examples that she mentioned. Admittedly, though, I haven't yet managed to get kicked out of the graduate program.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It Had To Be You, May 10, 2006
By 
G. Bestick (Dobbs Ferry, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality (Hardcover)
One of the more fascinating aspects of being human is that we're all built from the same parts, yet we all have different personalities. What makes you you and me me? Confronted with this question, most people would respond that it's some blend of nature (the genes you inherited from your parents) and nurture (the environment you were raised in). Judith Rich Harris debunks that answer and replaces it with an elegant hypothesis about the true sources of human uniqueness.

In the first part of her book, Harris takes developmental and social psychologists to task for over-emphasizing the influence of early childhood experiences on personality formation and not giving enough credit to what happens outside the home. She also maintains that developmental studies that don't screen for genetic influences are prone to confuse cause and effect. She shows how research that's been inadequately digested makes its way into mainstream culture, where it's regurgitated as pop truth. According to Harris, most of the conventional wisdom about birth order, home environment, parenting style, and the interaction of genes and the home environment does not adequately explain why we're different from one other.

Having eliminated the usual suspects, Harris turns to Stephen Pinker's How The Mind Works as her starting point for solving the mystery of human personality. Pinker posits that our brains are organized into "mental modules" that perform discrete tasks. Some examples of modular systems are facial recognition, language acquisition, and our ability to postulate what other people are thinking (a theory of mind). All of these had evolutionary value to small tribes of wandering hominids, and evolved to better serve our survival needs.

Harris' theory is that once we've figured out what part of a personality is accounted for by genes (a little less than half if you average the various studies), the remainder of a personality is created through the interplay of three mental systems: the relationship system, the socialization system, and the status system. Each of these systems evolved to deal with a pressing survival issue. The relationship system helps us attach to, and later relate to, specific individuals. The socialization system enables us to figure out the norms of our group so we can fit in. The relationship system is with us at birth, and the socialization system develops quite early in life. The slowest system to emerge is the status system, which we use to set ourselves apart from the other members of our group. The status system takes longest to develop because we need to be intellectually sophisticated enough to figure out who we are and what we're good at.

These systems can issue contradictory directives. For instance, the generalizations of the social system war with the specificity of the relationship system. This explains why a person can dislike an ethnic group while getting along perfectly well with a neighbor who happens to be a member of that group. The socialization and status systems are often at odds: do I sacrifice my personal goals for the good of the group, or do what's best for me even if it harms the others? Most of a life's high drama involves trade-offs among these systems. What makes you unique among all the humans who have ever trod the planet is the way your mental modules process the stimulus provided by your particular environment.

I wish we had more detail on how Harris' mental systems work. For instance, language acquisition theorists continue to go round on how much of our language facility is innate versus how much is instantiated by experience. Just as we have to memorize a lot of specific words to speak a language, we have to organize a lot of data - particular faces, facts about the people attached to those faces, rules, norms and prototypes of groups, specific information about our own skills and how people view us - to populate Harris' mental modules. Does the framework - eg grammar rules or the relationship module - precede the data, or does it emerge as the data is acquired? If the three systems are more innate than experiential, does this mean that more of our personality is influenced by genes than we currently believe? If it's experiential, by what process do we generate the proper responses to a specific situation? What triggers the appropriate neural assemblies and how do we make trade-offs between specific information and general rules?

As Harris herself states, her theory needs to researched, tested and validated. The really exciting breakthroughs will come when we're able to correlate observational studies of human behavior with the genes and genetic switches that activate those behaviors. Behavioral geneticists are advancing into this new territory, which will help us lift the analysis of human personality out of the realm of metaphor and into the realm of hard science. Meanwhile, Harris has given us an elegant hypothesis, rich in implications, written in a clear and entertaining manner. As a theory, it explains an immense amount about why you're you and I'm me.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A robust theory of the systems of the mind explains the other 55% of personality, July 7, 2006
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This review is from: No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality (Hardcover)
Judith Rich Harris has devised a solution to the second half of the puzzle she set herself a decade ago. John Locke proposed three centuries ago that a baby enters the world as a blank slate, tabula rasa in Latin, upon which worldly experience writes, and in doing so forms the adult. Per Harris' title, each of us is quite unique. The process by which we attain our uniqueness has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries.

I begin with a caution to the reader. Do not search your mental library for a template to pre-apply to Harris' book. You don't have one. It is not Nature vs. Nurture redux. Not genetic determinism. This is a fresh assemblage of ideas, pulled together from a number of realms of contemporary science, to be approached with a fresh and open mind.

The history of the science upon which she draws is full of strong personalities and opinions, drawing on and shaping the intellectual currents of their times: Galton, with his belief that human ability and character were inherited; Skinner and Watson, who believed in the potency of environmental interventions and the malleability of human nature (a belief shared by generations of educators). This is the baggage Harris asks you to throw aside. Neither Galton's nor Skinner's model comes close to explaining human nature as we experience it. What, then, does?

45% of individual differences - Harris focuses on personality, but other researchers find it to be true of other traits such as cognitive ability - are inherited. This was one of the principal arguments of Harris' 1998 "The Nurture Assumption." The second major argument concerned what did not account for the other 55%. After controlling for genetics, parents' influence on children's personalities, language and values is minimal. These are testable hypothesis: simply look at twins raised together and apart, and blood siblings vs. adoptive siblings under the same roof. The book posed a serious threat to the dominant model. It exculpated generations from the parental guilt imposed by Freud and his followers, and challenged parents' and educators' sense of their own importance in forming a child. Harris got into some nasty academic mudslinging, and takes delicious pleasure in recounting her victories in "No Two Alike." It is exactly the kind of gossip upon which humankind, per her thesis, thrives, and I relished it.

That still leaves 55% of the variance in human personality unaccounted for. What are the culprits? Harris crafted the book like a mystery novel, lining up the usual suspects one by one and dismissing them: (1) home environments, (2) child rearing practices, (3) gene-environment interactions, (4) birth order, and (5) gene-environment correlations. 1,2 and 4 are self-evident. Concepts (3) and (5) take some understanding of genetics and statistics. (3) might say that an environmental factor - harsh discipline, say -

might make tall children less aggressive and short children more aggressive, with the result that on average there is no effect. (5) would posit that individuals who love to cheer would naturally gravitate towards an environment where they can do so, such as sports. But in the end none of these hypotheses hold water. They do not account for any meaningful fraction of human personality differences. Now for what does!

Three things: Our

o Relationship system

o Socialization system, and

o Status system

The first question Harris must address is, exactly what are these? These terms were not found in the Nature-vs-Nurture discussion. She draws extensively on recent science, especially Stephen Pinker's "How the Mind Works" and "The Language Instinct." Pinker's driving insight is that far from being a tabula rasa, the brain is extensively prewired for the tasks of vision, speech, hearing, manipulation of the hands and the other functions that make us human. Researchers have the ability to see which areas of the brain "light up" in each function.

Harris' hypothesis is that we have evolved to be born prewired with mental systems for the most important social functions in primate society. Our relationship system is a mental Rolodex of individuals, with slots for name, face, abilities, personality traits and every other feature that is important for us to know in maintaining relationships. Newborns immediately start to populate their Rolodexes with a who's who of voices, smells and expectations.

We are social animals. We need to belong. The socialization system fits us into groups. We observe groups, abstract the traits of members of the group into a stereotype, and attempt to mold our behavior to that stereotype. A boy playing baseball does what kids playing baseball do: toss the ball back and forth, take play swings, and talk the talk. A kid who doesn't, like Hobbes' friend Calvin, is acutely aware of being an outsider. Each of us belongs to a great many groups. Harris points out the fallacy of the "nurture assumption" that the family group is the major influence on a child. Wrong - the kid can be a totally different person at home, in school, at summer camp, and on a team. As parents often hear.

Status, the third system, operates in dynamic tension with socialization. We conform to groups, but we each occupy a unique niche within the group pecking order. The higher our status, the more social goodies we enjoy: material stuff, mating opportunities, company and leisure. After striving for acceptance by the baseball team, we compete for the position of captain, pitcher and other prestigious positions.

Harris closes by admitting that her theory is complex and that testing it will involve monumental challenges. To what degree are the three constructs independent of one another? How does one observe and measure things like relationships or status to subject them to statistical analysis? What alternative, derivative or simplified theories might equally well explain what we observe? These issues will be a long time in the resolution, but whatever the outcome, Harris' will be remembered as the one who framed the right question.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Corrections to Synaptic Mogul's review, March 8, 2006
By 
This review is from: No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality (Hardcover)
[...]

In point of fact, Harris graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis in 1959 and was awarded the Lila Pearlman Prize in psychology. In 1961 she received a master's degree in psychology from Harvard University. After receiving her master's degree, Harris worked as a teaching assistant in psychology at MIT (1961-1962), and as a research assistant at Bolt Beranek and Newman (1962-1963) and the University of Pennsylvania (1963-1965).

Her academic career was effectively halted by two things...the birth of her children and a chronic autoimmune disorder that has been diagnosed as a combination of lupus and systemic sclerosis. She spent the late 70's bedridden. From 1981 to 1994 she was a writer of textbooks in developmental psychology

In sum, even if she holds no doctorate, Harris is a highly trained psychologist, with experience in academia and more than a decade under her belt as a writer of developmental textbooks.

Specifically regarding "No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality," it must be taken first and foremost as a rebuttal to the objections raised to her groundbreaking book "The Nurture Assumption." In doing so, she covers much of the same ground, but this time lays waste to "academic" responses from the likes of Stephen Suomi and Frank Sulloway.

"The Nurture Assumption" laid out a frame work for the development of personality. "No Two Alike" defends and expands her work. Right now...everyone else is just playing catch-up.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From shibboleths to systems, June 30, 2006
This review is from: No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality (Hardcover)
For someone nearly housebound and bereft of academic qualifications, Harris is an imposing figure in the world of social behaviour. Her earlier book having raised a storm of controversy among academics, this one will extend the arena to family relations. There is probably no greater shibboleth than the notion that parents are wholly responsible for how their children develop. In this book, Harris demolishes that idea. She applies the mode of a "detective story" to line up evidence and possible perpetrators. Although much of the focus in this book relies on the study of twins, she also raises the issue of birth order and how each of us interacts at home, school and social contact. With an easy, conversational style and use of much evidence, Harris has once again built a cogent and convincing argument.

As with every "detective novel", the investigator must eliminate possible perpetrators. Harris defines a number of "red herrings" that she must dispense with prior to presenting her own thesis of what drives our relationships with others. Among the outdated or mistaken ideas she tackles are those of Freud and the "blank slate" aficionados. This latter has come to dominate both academic and family thinking about raising offspring. Whatever the shifting fashions of psychology have favoured, the one element long overlooked has been the evolutionary basis of family development. The growing field of evolutionary psychology is helping to fill that gap. Harris draws on many scholars of the past generation in support of her desire to call attention to our genetic roots. Steven Pinker, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides loom large in her narrative. Skirting the term "sociobiology" as likely too inflammatory, she still pays homage to Edward O. Wilson's efforts to equate the social species of our world.

One of the major targets of her updating of social thinking is the "correlation". It's possible to measure a child's behaviour and that of its family. The flaw in the research has been to assign cause through correlation. Harris contends there's no evidence to support the link. While most families regard themselves as at least guiding their offspring's behaviour, she shows that it's equally likely the child is driving theirs. With nearly half a child's conduct due to genetic drive, attributing traits to parental influence alone has little basis. Moreover, many home behaviours are shed when the child departs the home for school. An entire new set of rules for interaction arise in the classroom and playground. There, the issues of acceptance in various groups become the dominant concern. Classroom performance influences how one is viewed by peers, as is physique, deportment and understanding rank. These are complex issues, strongly interacting. Even sibling rivalry seems simple by comparison. There, the dealings are with only a few in a relatively fixed environment. Outside the home, the situation becomes almost infinitely complex. Yet, the child must learn to adapt to it.

Harris thinks our brains have mechanisms to deal with that complexity. After all, she reminds us, we've had several million years to develop the ability to make those adjustments. The mechanisms she proposes are a trio of "systems". The "Relationship System" begins at home with parents and siblings. It must be greatly enhanced as the child moves from home to school and beyond. Obviously, it must be highly flexible, allowing for rapid change in varying environments. The second, the "Socialisation System" has a foundation in home life, but must be drastically reconfigured when moving from home to school, then in later life. Finally, but hardly least, is the "Status System". "Status" in home life has been dealt with in the "birth order" scenarios put forward by Frank Sulloway. Harris, who challenged Sulloway in her earlier book, completes the task here.

In conclusion, Harris notes that her "Systems" are theoretical. If they lack "hard" evidence to sustain, that is the nature of a new concept. She implores academic and other researchers to take up these questions and pursue them more fully. Not only are the ideas complex and deal with difficult interactions, there are ethical issues to contend with. How do you perform "experiments" in family, school or social structures. Those who have already attempted it, have caused irreparable damage to some subjects. Along with dispensing with "red herrings" then, Harris has constructed a solid base for further investigation. It's a tempting scenario for young readers to consider entering. It's to be hoped they will take up the challenge. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scientific detective, December 25, 2006
This review is from: No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality (Hardcover)
This new book by Judith Rich Harris is again thought provoking. In the book, which is written like a scientific detective, she tries to solve the mystery of individual differences between people. According to the current scientific knowledge, roughly 45% of these differences can be attributed to genes. But this leaves 55% of unexplained variance. How can this be explained?

The book is roughly divided in two parts. The first chapters are used to eliminate some possible causal factors. Individual differences are not caused by differences in environment and not by a combination of genes and upbringing. Interactions between genes and environment can also be ruled out just like environmental differences within families and correlations between genes and environment. In the second part of the book Rich Harris presents a new theory. Briefly summarized the author proposes that individual differences are caused by a cooperation between two brain systems, the relationship system and the status system.

I like this book. It is challenging, thoughful and thought-provoking. The most convincing part of the book, according to me, is the first part, in which she debunks some broadly held convictions among laymen and scientists.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Future Belongs To Independent Scholars, July 17, 2006
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This review is from: No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality (Hardcover)
Whenever I read a science book that analyzes hard data to make radical claims, I immediately rush to read all the responses. The manner of the responses is what convinces me Harris's books are correct. So far the criticisms have been ideological, emotional, and focus on Harris's lack of credentials. (What doctorate means: You are hereby allowed to make money claiming this belief system is true.) Harris has no dog in this fight. Her rigor hit a nerve and made psychologists self-conscious about their rigor. So far nobody has dared argue against her data in any detail.
Writing it in the style of a detective story is a serviceable way to propel the narrative. It reads like a personal memoir of a no-nonsense lady stubbornly in search of truth, with Joan as her trusty lance-bearer, while they battle against the stubborn momentum of popular myths.
Harris took a cogently argued polemic and turned it into a meditation on the very methods by which science overcomes the confirmation bias, and the methods by which it does NOT.
I am convinced there is no evidence that children's relationships with their parents has any affect on their adult relationships, and there has never been any evidence shown that birth order has an affect. If somebody has evidence that it does, show it. As Harris says, "Show me the data." If psychologists can't respond with data, the argument rests on the conclusion that Freudian psychology is based on a hunch.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful presentation of how we become who we are, October 10, 2007
This is an outstanding book on social and developmental psychology based primarily on evolutionary psychology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience--the new paradigm that's revolutionizing academic psychology. It's engagingly written, authoritative, witty, ingeniously argued, and filled with information and wisdom. Judith Rich Harris is that rare, very rare, individual who is a top academic without a position at a major university, a professor without portfolio, so to speak.

When I first picked this up I almost put it down again. The title "No Two Alike" sounds suspiciously like another feel good, shallow celebration of human diversity. Right. We're all wonderful. Thanks, I needed that. Furthermore, I kind of creeped out at the joined-at-the-heads twins that were the subject near the beginning of the book. In fact I stopped reading from the beginning and put the book aside. When I returned to it, I noticed that chapters six through nine were entitled, The Modular Mind, The Relationship System, The Socialization System, and The Status System. That rekindled my interest.

The idea of the modular mind comes from fairly recent advances in neuroscience and cognitive psychology as understood from an evolutionary perspective. I started reading on page 143 where the chapter on the modular mind begins. What I discovered is that Harris' understanding of who we are and how we got that way begins with evidence from genetics and ends with insights from social psychology. She sees the relationship system as the way we learn to form and maintain relationships with others. The infant begins with a relationship with its mother. Harris states that the child's first job is to get the mother to love her. I have seen this in children and they do it mostly by appealing to the mother's instincts. They are small and helpless with relatively big eyes and soft skin, etc., and so appear to the mother as irresistibly cute. Next they try to win the love of the father. Girls instinctively know that if they win the love of their father they are likely to be safe. They work hard at it. Then come the relationships with others.

And then comes the socialization system. Harris makes a distinction between learning to form relationships and socialization. In the former it's one on one. In the latter we don't so much relate to individuals as to the average of all others. We seek to become like the typical person in our group. We support the group and identify with its values and preoccupations.

Finally comes the status system. This is in some sense at loggerheads with the socialization system. Instead of seeking to be like others, what we want is to be like them only a little better or at least a little better at something. Instead of imitating the styles of others we look at them to read how they rate us.

Harris sees these three systems with our genes interacting over time as forming our personalities. She makes it clear that it is our peer groups that we look to for both our identity and our status. She believes that the primary information we receive does not come from our parents. We adjust to and comform to the values, beliefs and mores of the larger society at the peer group level, not to the values, beliefs and mores of our parents, except insofar as their values are similar to those of the larger group. Furthermore, we tend to discount the opinions of our relatives when assessing our status. (They can be biased!) Instead we look to our peers to tell us how we stand. Harris calls this "mindreading," but what we do is not so much read the minds of our peers as read their behavior, especially their behavior toward us, and deduce our status accordingly. If everybody in the group suddenly turns to look at you when the tough question comes up--guess what? They probably think you are the best person to answer it. When it comes to deciding how to choose up teams for basketball, if their eyes turn to Basketball Jones, you can be fairly sure that they think Basketball Jones knows basketball, or at least she knows how to set up teams.

The complex interactions of these systems in addition to the genetic endowment ensures us that everybody is unique, even identical twins. Harris makes a point of showing how identical twins become differentiated over time through feedback from especially the status system. People need to form mental dossiers on everybody they know, and they do so even with twins; and in doing so they see fine distinctions, and then the distinctions grow. Not only that but one twin will, through happenstance or "environmental noise," as Harris terms it, be ever so slightly more assertive or more confident, and that difference, like a leak in a dike, will grow.

In short this is a terrific book, skillfully and even eloquently written, full of information and deep insights into human nature, well documented and argued in a most convincing manner. It is simply one of the best books on psychology that I have read in quite a while.

Here's a quote from Harris that demonstrates her skill and intelligence: "The desire for status begins early and lasts a lifetime. Old people in nursing homes, well past the point when Viagra can do them any good, still care about their status. In my view, status is an end in itself for humans. The fact that it buys access to desirable sexual partners in adulthood is no doubt one of the evolutionary reasons we are endowed with this motive, but evolution's reasons shouldn't be confused with people's motivations. Status also buys access to desirable things to eat and drink, but the drive to gain status isn't a side effect of hunger or thirst. If anything, hunger and thirst are likely to interfere with the quest for status. Sex can too. Ask Bill Clinton." (p. 256)
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If not nature or nurture, then what?, November 2, 2006
By 
Mike Garrison (Covington, WA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality (Hardcover)
To get the most out of this book, first you have to read The Nurture Assumption (by the same author). It also helps to have read How The Mind Works by Steven Pinker. Both of those books are pretty much taken for granted in this one.

How The Mind Works, like most books about evolutionary cognitive science, is mainly concerned with those things that make us alike. It really doesn't have anything much to say about the differences between people, even though it admits that there are plenty of them.

This book is about those differences. In fact, it aims to answer a particular question: "Why do identical twins (who share the same genes) who have been raised together (and share very similar environments) have different personalities?"

Her proposed answer should come as no surprise to readers of The Nurture Assumption. In a nutshell, she says that we are driven to create our own niche in society by competing "modules" (innate mental systems) that allow us to interact with people as individuals, induce us to attempt to be like the rest of our peers, and yet also drive us to stand out from our peers in a quest for individual status.

The book has some flaws. It spends too much time in a personal defense of The Nurture Assumption and it takes too long to introduce her proposed theory. (At least, it seemed like that to me, but I was already convinced by The Nurture Assumption in the first place.)

The extended discussions about the scholarship of certain people who have competing theories is probably accurate but feels like a personal attack. (I'm not saying it actually is a personal attack. I think what is happening is that only one person has really presented any supposed data for the "birth order effect" on personality. If there really were a birth order effect, it would shoot down part of her theory, so she has to attack it. But since a significant portion of an entire chapter is spent attacking the work of one person, it seems personal, even if it probably isn't.)

And she comes off as a little too complacent about the lack of experimental data designed to investigate the theory (basically saying "here it is, I leave it up to others to test it"). However, she does encourage other people to test her theory and revise it when they find flaws.

I do think that is this is the right type of framework to support a real theory of (the non-genetic portion of) personality. It's a good book, worth reading if you are interested in this field.
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No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality
No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality by Judith Rich Harris (Hardcover - March 17, 2006)
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