Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Revised and Updated Paperback – February 24, 2009
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Whether it's musical talent, criminal tendencies, or fashion sense, we humans want to know why we have it or why we don't. What makes us the way we are? Maybe it's in our genes, maybe it's how we were raised, maybe it's a little of both--in any case, Mom and Dad usually receive both the credit and the blame. But not so fast, says developmental psychology writer Judith Rich Harris. While it has been shown that genetics is only partly responsible for behavior, it is also true, Harris asserts, that parents play a very minor role in mental and emotional development. The Nurture Assumption explores the mountain of evidence pointing away from parents and toward peer groups as the strongest environmental influence on personality development. Rather than leaping into the nature vs. nurture fray, Harris instead posits nurture (parental) vs. nurture (peer group), and in her view your kid's friends win, hands down. This idea, difficult as it may be to accept, is supported by the countless studies Harris cites in her breezy, charming prose. She is upset about the blame laid on parents of troubled children and has much to say (mostly negative) about "professional parental advice-givers." Her own advice may be summarized as "guide your child's peer-group choices wisely," but the aim of the book is less to offer guidance than to tear off cultural blinders. Harris's ideas are so thought-provoking, challenging, and potentially controversial that anyone concerned with parenting issues will find The Nurture Assumption refreshing, important, and possibly life-changing. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Harris, author of a college-level textbook on child development, offers a contribution to the increasingly popular trend to absolve parents from feeling responsible for the rearing of their children. The inability of psychologists to demonstrate that parents have predictable effects on children, it is argued, vitiates the long-standing assumption of parents' crucial role in children's personality development. While the author's skepticism of the view that parents' behavior produces necessary and direct effects on children is itself well founded, her counterpoint to the "nurture assumption" is not. Rather than attempting to examine the evident complexity of parental influence on children, the author instead avoids the problem altogether, asserting that one must recognize "that children learn separately, in each social context, how to behave in that context." By consequence, the primary influence on a child's social development, Harris asserts, is not the family setting (in which the author thinks children merely learn how to behave toward other family members), but rather the peer group. Pleasant as this theory may be to some parents, this book contains not a shred of empirical research to support it. What substitutes for research are numerous anecdotes and pages of opining. Here, for example, is one of many personal observations the author uses to bolster her own argument: "I believe high or low status in the peer group has permanent effects on the personality. Children who are unpopular with their peers... never get over that. At least I didn't." While this kind of evidence is unlikely to sway the critical reader, it will undoubtedly find favor among those parents who, like the author, find in this book's thesis a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, which will mitigate guilty feelings about how they treated their children?feelings that, as the book implies, need not be analyzed. First broadcast to 20/20. BOMC alternate, QPB selection.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
This book challenges us to think of specific ways in which we influence our children's behavior and traits outside the home, other than through heredity. Yes, as many critics claim, we can find some. Aside from the early developmental issues which Harris acknowledges, we teach our children basic problem solving and moral reasoning that they often apply when we are not around. We also provide opportunities of various kinds for children to play, to interact with other people, to learn.
If she had recognized more of that, and written more about that, many of the harsher and more sophisticated criticisms would probably be somewhat assuaged. Her evolutionary argument about children doing what is neccessary to survive childhood is not at all inconsistent with the notion that parents do have important opportunities, resources, and survival and coping skills to provide.
Even within group socialization theory, the skills don't have to come from the group, they are selected by interaction with the group.
My bone of contention with most of the critics is that this doesn't really upend the group socialization theory. It largely shows that parental influence is less pervasive and overwhelming than the popular and social science models assume. That message would probably have inspired less virulent criticism, but also less praise from supporters and certainly would have made for less of a controversy.
Harris assuredly makes some very profound points about the foundation of the social science model of parenting. Yet it is hard to avoid the feeling that she goes way overboard in spots. The greatest challenge in reading this book is completing it with an objective enough mindset to appreciate what she is really bringing to the discussion.
Sometimes she does seem, as her many critics contend, to be, by implication, waving away parental responsibility. Yet by struggling through and giving her the benefit of the doubt, I found this criticism overturned by the end of the book. She does not outright say that parenting doesn't matter at all, she says that it matters most to the family relations, and less to traits and qualities as measured in other contexts. It matters more giving children opportunities to learn and grow in the log term and interact rather than shaping them behaviorally with praise and discipline and other classical "parenting style" points of focus.
In the process, she challenges the reader to think of ways in which we influence our children, and ways they resist that influence.
One of the most interesting points made in the book, and one often glossed over in reviews, is Harris' defense of the concept of social context as a determining factor in behavior. In other words, that we take on different roles in different situations, in much more than a trivial sense. This is a necessary and profound part of her scientific argument, though perhaps it has little impact compared to the conclusion that the effect of parenting is different than we generally assume. I fear that some profound theoretical issues like this will become victims of the more general controversy over what Harris says and implies about parenting, and some of her more extreme conclusions.
In the end, I rated this book so highly not just because it is good science writing, and because it constantly engaged me and made me think hard, but because thinking about these things and talking about them with each other is part of good parenting.
Another good read along similar lines ...
Stranger in the Nest: Do Parents Really Shape Their Child's Personality, Intelligence, or Character?
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.