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Thursday, May 3, 2007
What's it like outside?
A new essay in Prospect Magazine (UK) by Judith Rich Harris posits that what goes on in families doesn't matter as much as is commonly thought when it comes to personality development:
Whether the home is headed by one parent or two, whether the parents are happily married or constantly rowing, whether they believe in pushing their children to succeed or leaving them to find their own way in life, whether the home is filled with books or sports equipment, whether it is orderly or messy, a city flat or a farmhouse -- the research shows, counterintuitively, that none of these things makes much difference.
This is a very old debate, of course, but Harris isn't trying to deliver a KO in Nature v. Nurture. She says in "virtually every" study, it's essentially a split decision. But the environmental effects aren't to be found in the home.
Where are they? "[R]esearchers still haven't been able to pin down which aspects of the environment are important." The aspects that aren't, she says, are those "shared by all the children who grow up in a given family -- which includes most of the things the word 'home' makes you think of."
UPDATE: I meant to mention that Christopher Shea wrote a related article for Ideas in August 2004 about the controversial views of Jerome Kagan, author of "The Long Shadow of Temperament." Kagan favors Nature in the fight, by a lot, but doesn't think much of the way Harris downplays parenting: "'I am embarrassed for psychology,' he told Newsweek when her book came out in 1998."