- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Free Press; 2nd Revised, Updated ed. edition (February 24, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1439101655
- ISBN-13: 978-1439101650
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Revised and Updated Paperback – February 24, 2009
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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
I aslo want to point out that I first learned of this book from reading Steven Pinker's THE BLANK SLATE. I must say that I really like Pinker's writing style, but, learning that he wrote that book after THE NURTURE ASSUMPTION, I'm thinking that he got his style from Judith Rich Harris!! She writes so wonderfully, so elegantly, so eloquently, and so engagingly, that I hope she writes another one. But just how many groundbreaking, paradigm-shattering, wholly original works of research can one person create? Best wishes... - lc
If there's a fault with this book and this line of thought, it's that it doesn't give any room for nurture at all. It seems unlikely to me that if we evolved to care for children that caring has no impact on their lives.
But, this is is something everyone should read and think about. Even if you don't agree with the author, you will enjoy the writing and the clarity of thought.
Though a challenging read from time to time, I am so glad that I read your book and am totally inspired by your beliefs
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Ignorant doesn't even cut it.Read more