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No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality Hardcover – March 17, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Why do identical twins who grow up together differ in personality? Harris attempts to solve that mystery. Her initial thesis in The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do is replaced here with a stronger, more detailed one based on evolutionary psychology. Reading this book is akin to working your way through a mystery novel—complete with periodic references to Sherlock Holmes. And Harris has a knack for interspersing scientific and research-laden text with personal anecdotes. Initially, she refutes five red herring theories of personality differences, including differences in environment and gene-environment interactions. Eventually, Harris presents her own theory, starting from modular notions of the brain (as Steven Pinker puts it, "the mind is not a single organ but a system of organs"). Harris offers a three-systems theory of personality: there's the relationship system, the socialization system and the status system. And while she admits her theory of personality isn't simple, it is thought provoking. Harris ties up the loose ends of the new theory, showing how the development of the three systems creates personality. Harris's writing is highly entertaining, which will help readers stick with her through the elaboration of a fairly complex theory. 12 b&w illus. (Feb.)
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From Scientific American
Where does adult personality come from? Why are we all different? These are the questions energizing Judith Rich Harriss new book.
Harris, a former textbook author turned popular writer, dives right in, sharpening her focus by looking at identical twins. After subtracting the share contributed by their mutual genesabout 45 percentstudies show that adult identical twins are no more alike in personality than people plucked at random from a crowd, even though the siblings were raised in the same home, by the same parents, with identical schooling.
Where, then, do personality differences come from? Harris begins, in a savage fashion familiar to readers of her Nurture Assumption, by recounting factors that do not contribute to personality differences. She debunks dozens of studies by psychologistsespecially the "developmentalists" and "interventionists" who believe that better parenting or school environments can affect how children turn outby pointing out where they have fudged numbers and twisted results. She rejects the basis of psychoanalysis, stating there is no evidence that talking about childhood experiences has therapeutic value. She also maintains that learned behaviors do not readily transfer from one situation to another, noting that even babies behave differently to fit different environments.
To answer her opening questions, Harris then develops a complex scheme based on "the modular mind," a framework set forth by Harvard University evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker and others. (Harris herself has no doctorate and is housebound by systemic sclerosis and lupus, two autoimmune disorders.) She describes three modulesthe relationship system, the socialization system and the status systemand explains how each contributes its part to making us who we are. The relationship system starts in the cradle as infants study and learn the faces and voices of the people around them, collecting information that helps form personality. The socialization system adapts people to their culture. The status system takes all the information collected during childhood and adolescence and shapes and modifies our personalities in accord with our environments.
Harriss last chapter lays out her theory in tabular form, explaining how each module interacts with the others to produce our distinct personalities. It is lavishly footnoted, like the rest of the book, shoring up her strategy of pointing out the failings of other models and then proposing her own. Her goal, she writes, is to explain the variations in personality that cannot be attributed to variations in peoples genes. After saying she believes she has succeeded, she throws down her gauntlet: "I will leave it to other people to test my theory."
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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.
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.
The sad story is that you pretty much never find this book on the "parenting" shelf in bookstores, even though it's the most important book any parent could read.
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1) The book is backwards. Harris doesn’t tell the reader her theory for why people are so different until page 244 (of 265!).Read more