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90 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read, even if you want to disagree, November 25, 1998
This review is from: The NURTURE ASSUMPTION: WHY CHILDREN TURN OUT THE WAY THEY DO (Hardcover)
This book asks a question that is interesting to many people: what factors explain the personality differences in people?
The author starts by reporting on studies that show that about half of the differences can be explained genetically. Most social scientists would agree with that assessment.
But what about the half that cannot be explained genetically? The author deals with this in three steps.
1. The _assumption_ that parenting style matters is attacked by showing that the evidence for it is merely anecdotal. Rigorous attempts to quantify the effect of parents fail to show more than a negligible impact.
2. An alternative theory is developed. She suggests, based on evolutionary biology, that there might be a greater role for peer groups than parents in shaping personality. This is a very interesting section of the book, because even outside of the context of the theory, the observations of how groups form and interact are interesting.
3. The author tries to provide empirical support for the "group socialization" theory. Ironically, to my untrained eye, this evidence appears to be largely of the anecdotal variety derided in step 1! And nowhere is there a clear demonstration of the quantitative importance of peer groups.
I believe that the author has succeeded in raising the "group socialization" theory to the same level of plausibility as the nurture assumption. But I came away feeling that neither theory is well supported.
I suspect that we may never prove that anything other than genetic factors matter in personality. A large component of the "other half" could be measurement error. A physical characteristic, such as eye color, is a relatively well-defined concept that can be measured fairly precisely. Not so with "intelligence" or "aggressiveness." These are fuzzy concepts, measured imperfectly. The mere attempt to measure these concepts induces random variation. Imagine how difficult it would be to explain height differences if we weren't quite sure what "height" really means, and if the measurements were based on rulers with 20 percent margins of error!
Try to read the book with an open mind.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 24, 2007 9:32:19 AM PDT
Florizel says:
The author proposes a theory which is plausible largely because the alternatives have been excluded. If you had read and understood the book, you would understand that the "nurture assumption" is no longer tenable.

Posted on Jan 27, 2008 2:43:16 PM PST
Brian Kodi says:
Mr. Kling,

How is it that if you feel neither theory is well supported (nurture and the author's), you gave the book 5 stars? Afterall, wasn't the author's main point of the book her group socialization theory?

Posted on Feb 12, 2008 7:13:16 AM PST
Bill Greene says:
I believe Dr Kling is substantially on target when he argues that personality traits are primarily genetic, and other influences, whether parental or peer group, play a smaller part. And he correctly suggests the lack of evidence that peer groups influence personality. The underlying bone of contention may be how important is "personality" in defining what a mature adult represents? The main impact of "nurturing" is to civilize the raw bundle of genetic mishmash that makes up a human being. It appears reasonable to believe that three infants born in the African bush, the Australian outback, or in Bronxville, New York, all have the same human potential. Their innate personalities may differ but those differences are inconsequential compared to the "civilizing" culture they are reared in. While it is very possible the Bronxville boy may well end up as an MIT PhD. and move on to win a Nobel Prize in Science, there is almost no chance the other two will. Plus, the MIT grad will probably have learned to fit in socially at the country club or the hunting lodge. Almost all the characteristics that distinguish these three individuals at maturity will be based on their environments and upbringing. While a winning personality may color a person's life, it is dwarfed by the cumulative impact of educational and social conditioning. All these books about personality traits appear to be arguing over the least important factor when it comes to the vital importance of how we raise each succeeding generation. It is not about making them appealing on a TV game show, or popular at the Club. It is about survival of the nation. Throughout history, societies that have prospered have been powered by a citizenry possessing very specific attributes that created progress. Luther, Cromwell, Adams, Newton, Coke and Blackstone played vital roles for their nations and in history's advances but who knows or cares about their personalities. Weren't Ben Franklin and John Adams equally important to America--even though one was fun'lovin and popular and the other was dourand given to narrow minded introspection?

Posted on Jul 21, 2010 12:32:39 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jul 21, 2010 1:12:07 PM PDT]

Posted on Jan 16, 2014 10:54:12 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 16, 2014 10:57:37 AM PST
If you've read many books on genetics influence on personality and behavior, you'd know how many errors there are in the research. A large part of what gets attributed to genetics is likely measurement error. For example, among many other books I could point to:

The Gene Illusion - Genetic Research in Psychiatry and Psychology Under the Microscope
by Jay Joseph
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