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Judith Rich Harris (February 10, 1938 - ) is a psychologist and the author of The Nurture Assumption, a book criticizing the belief that parents are the most important factor in child development.

Early life and educationEdit

Harris spent her early childhood moving around the USA until her parents eventually settled in Tucson, Arizona. The dry climate suited her father, who suffered from ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease.

Harris graduated from Tucson High School and attended the University of Arizona and Brandeis University, from where she graduated magna cum laude in 1959. In 1961 she received a master's degree in psychology from Harvard University.

Marriage and illnessEdit

She married Charles S. Harris in 1961; they have two daughters (one adopted) and four grandchildren.

Since 1977, Harris has suffered from a chronic autoimmune disorder, diagnosed as a combination of lupus and systemic sclerosis.

Research: 1977-1995Edit

In the late 1970s, Harris developed a mathematical model of visual information processing which formed the basis for two articles in the journal Perception and Psychophysics (1979, 1984).

After 1981 she focused on textbooks about developmental psychology. With Robert Liebert, she co-authored The Child (Prentice-Hall, 1984) and Infant and Child (1992).

In 1994 she formulated a new theory of child development, focusing on the peer group rather than the family. This formed the basis for a 1995 article in the Psychological Review for which she received the American Psychological Association's George A. Miller Award for an Outstanding Recent Article in General Psychology.

The Nurture AssumptionEdit

Main article: The Nurture Assumption

Harris's most famous work, The Nurture Assumption, was published in 1998.

In this book, she challenges the idea that the personality of adults is determined chiefly by the way they were raised by their parents. She looks at studies which claim to show the influence of the parental environment and claims that most fail to control for genetic influences. For example, if aggressive parents are more likely to have aggressive children, this is not necessarily evidence of parental example; it may also be that aggressiveness has been passed down through the genes. The book looks outside the family and points at the peer group as an important shaper of the child's psyche. Harris argues that children identify with their classmates and playmates rather than their parents, modify their behavior to fit with the peer group, and this ultimately helps to form the character of the individual.

No Two AlikeEdit

No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality, was published in February 2006. Harris attempts to explain why people are so different in personality, even identical twins who grow up in the same home.

She proposes that three distinct systems shape personality:

  • A relationship system allows us to distinguish family from strangers and tell individuals apart.
  • A socialization system helps us to become members of a group and absorb the group's culture.
  • A status system enables us to acquire self-knowledge by measuring ourselves against others.

No Two Alike expands on some of the ideas from The Nurture Assumption and attempts to answer some of the criticisms leveled at the former book.

Selected publicationsEdit

  • Harris, J. R., Shaw, M. L., & Bates, M. (1979). Visual search in multicharacter arrays with and without gaps. Perception & Psychophysics, 26, 69-84.
  • Lanze, M., Weisstein, N., & Harris, J. R. (1982). Perceived depth vs. structural relevance in the object-superiority effect. Perception & Psychophysics, 31, 376-382.
  • Harris, J. R., & Liebert, R. M. (1984). The Child: Development from Birth through Adolescence. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Harris, J. R., & Liebert, R. M. (1992). Infant and Child: Development from Birth through Middle Childhood. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Harris, J. R. (1995). Where is the child's environment? A group socialization theory of development. Psychological Review, 102, 458-489.
  • Harris, J. R. (1998). The nurture assumption: Why children turn out the way they do. New York: Free Press.
  • Harris, J. R. (2006). No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality. WW Norton & Company.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

  • Peer Pressure, New York Times Book Review September 13 1998, pp. 14-15
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