Judith Rich Harris
THE NURTURE ASSUMPTION
"I don't know who this woman is
and I haven't read the book
but she seems to be oversimplifying."
clinical director, child and family psychiatry department,
Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, in
The Scotsman, Oct. 13 1998
"The Nurture Assumption is a hoot.
She is a witty and articulate writer who clearly
and systematically explains her refutations
of commonly held assumptions. . . .
She turns the psychology establishment on its ear."
Marilyn Heins, M.D.,
Tucson pediatrician and parenting educator,
Arizona Daily Star, Sept. 20 1998
"I have indeed dutifully looked at Harris' book several
times in stores, but quite frankly, I found it too rambling, anecdotal
and contradictory to purchase or take seriously. . . .
My understanding of the formation of adult personae comes
from wide-ranging sources, such as Sir James George Frazer's survey
of tribal rites of passage in 'The Golden Bough'; Freud's conflict-based
analysis of the psychodynamics of 'family romance' in bourgeois
society; and even Babylonian astrology."
Salon Magazine, Sept. 23 1998
"Harris writes beautifully, in a tone both persuasive and conversational. . . .
Some critics may pounce on her for not having a Ph.D. . . .
but they cannot fault her scholarship. . . .
She draws on research from behavior genetics (the study of genetic
contributions to personality), social psychology, child development,
ethology, evolution and culture. Lively anecdotes about real children
suffuse this book, but Harris never confuses anecdotes with data."
New York Times Book Review, September 13 1998
"[Harris'] thesis is absurd on its
face, but consider what might happen if parents believe
this stuff! Will it free some to mistreat their kids,
since 'it doesn't matter'? Will it tell parents who are
tired after a long day that they needn't bother even
paying any attention to their kid since 'it doesn't matter'?"
--Frank Farley, PhD,
Newsweek, Sept. 7 1998
"Harris' proposal could conceivably hurt our most innocent and
vulnerable -- our children. If you're an overwhelmed parent looking
to lighten your load, then reduce your time spent on the kids' behavior,
emotionial life, achievement and skills, and go party. If you've got
anger-control problems, let it all out, because it doesn't matter."
--op-ed by Frank Farley, PhD,
Philadelphia Daily News, Oct. 15 1998 (also in Los Angeles Parent, Nov. 1998)
"No one . . . could come away from her book with the message that
has, unfairly, been attributed to her -- that it doesn't matter
how you treat your children. Of course it does, Harris writes,
for the same reason it matters how you treat your spouse:
because they are human, and because the way you behave certainly
will affect your relationships with those people. . . . Go to your
child in the middle of the night, Harris would say, and comfort
her; not because it will make her emotionally secure 20 years
from now, or because she is forming a template for every
relationship she will ever have, but because she is frightened
and she is small, and it is in your power to make her feel better. And when you really think about it, this is a more humane reason
to treat your child well than the grandiose assumption that your
every action will have some power over her future."
The Washington Monthly, November 1998
"My advice to parents: 'Don't buy this book!' Let me read it for
you and I'll tell you if there is any good stuff in it.
John [Rosemond] and I. If we ever finish it."
--Jim R. Rogers
Center For Education and Community,
Coastal Carolina University),
Myrtle Beach Sun News,
"I do recommend that parents and professionals read the book. No
summary will suffice to capture all of the valuable information and
challenging ideas that are found in this very readable summary of
research and theory about what determines our personalities. . . .
appropriately stresses how much children, from conception on,
influence parents. It is very much a two-way process.
In summary, I believe that we should take Harris very seriously when
she makes the point that parents are only a partial influence on how
our children turn out as adults."
--Kalman M. Heller, PhD
(psychologist, expert on child
development, ADHD, parenting, and marriage),
"In reading the hype
generated by this book, there is a danger. Why show love to a child,
why talk to a baby, why read to a toddler unless you can prove it
will guarantee success later in life? In my own pediatric literacy
program, we help parents see that children who grow up with books
are more likely to be ready to learn to read and will want to learn
(pediatrician, Medical Director of Reach Out and Read), op-ed in
New York Times 9/9/98 and
Korea Times 9/10/98
"Harris's attack . . . consists . . . of a case-by-case critique of
research that purports to show a connection between parental and
child behavior. . . . Most of what Harris writes in this vein is not
only illuminating but thoroughly persuasive. . . .
A number of Harris's critics fear . . . that The Nurture Assumption
is a book that will let parents off the hook, a license for
self-indulgence. . . . Yet there is, in truth, little in Harris's pages
to justify this charge against her. . . .
What if . . . the only thing we can control for certain . . . is the kind of
life our children have at home? If that is so, then we should read
to them not because it will help them get into Harvard, but because
they like it; we should provide a loving environment not because it
will stimulate their social or cognitive development, but because it
is the right thing to do; . . . it matters
immediately to their happiness and well-being. . . .
If only because it reminds us that we are stewards of our children,
and not their Svengalis, The Nurture Assumption has performed a
lasting cultural service. It defies comprehension that anyone could
draw from this the lesson that how we treat them has thereby become
a matter of indifference."
book review in
"There are thousands of studies that show parents' impact on
children, [Jerome] Kagan says. Indeed, Harris spends a good portion of her
book trying to debunk them, arguing that they mistake cause for
effect, fail to take genetics into account, or fall prey to various
methodological blunders. But she fails to persuade Kagan, who
compares her conclusions to a once-ballyhooed discovery in physics
that fizzled. 'It's like cold fusion, remember that, a few years
ago?' he asks. 'There is no cold fusion, and this book is wrong.' "
Washington Post 10/28/98
"The publication of The Nurture Assumption was accompanied by
an unusual degree of publicity, hype, and instant controversy.
I therefore anticipated an extremely provocative thesis along
the lines of cold fusion or facilitated communication.
The actual book is not so controversial after all. It is,
however, an interesting and engaging book to read. Judith Rich
Harris has pulled together data from several spheres --
developmental psychology, anthropology, sociology, and common
sense -- and offers a plausible answer to the perennial question
of what makes people turn out the way they do."
--William Bernet, MD
(Psychiatric Hospital at Vanderbilt) in
JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association 2/24/99
"It was not until I encountered God that I came to understand
why things work out as they do. . . . It was then that I could
appreciate the existence of another force in life, one that we call
Satan . . . whom I understand particularly in his role as the
'Deceiver.' . . . [The Baby-Boomers] tended to be a generation that had
dismissed the God of their parents as just so much superstition . . .
easily susceptible to the work of the Deceiver -- as I see this book
written by Mrs. Harris."
Interim Pastor, The First Presbyterian Church of Dunellen [NJ],
September 6 1998 sermon
"That parents are responsible for their children's lives,
character, and misery is an article of faith that has dominated
popular culture as well as much of the psychology world for 30 or 40
years. . . . This dogma guarantees that, if parents do their job right,
it is possible to raise perfect children. . . . It is precisely this
outlook that Jesus challenged regularly. His parables were frequently
designed to disrupt the pretensions of human-controlled holiness,
which traps both the accuser and the accused. Perhaps there is
something of the Spirit in Judith Rich Harris's persuasive argument."
--Margaret G. Alter,
clinical psychologist, in
Books & Culture, A Christian Review
, March/April 1999
"Pinker states Harris's thesis as follows-- ' . . . in the formation of
an adult, genes matter and peers matter -- but parents don't matter
(p. xii).' Call me old-fashioned, but is this not an extreme
position given the countless research articles demonstrating
parental effects in virtually every area of child development?"
--Michael Jaffe, Ph.D.,
Professor of Psychology at Kean University [NJ],
family therapist and author of
Understanding Parenting and
New Jersey Psychologist, Winter 1999
"[Harris's] major contribution is her demonstration that there is no
research support for any theory suggesting that any type of
parenting is a cause of any aspect of the child's adult personality."
--Milton Spett, Ph.D.,
licensed psychologist with a private practice in Cranford, NJ, in
NJ-ACT Newsletter (NJ Assoc. of Cognitive- Behavioral Therapists), March 1999
"That crazy new book . . . I'm shocked that
it has hit the fan like it has. . . . Nothing she says is new or
innovative or thoughtful even. . . . It's silly, a silly argument."
--Dr. T. Berry Brazelton,
in Detroit News, October 8, 1998
" Harris writes in a witty and conversational
style that befits a Fool. * . . . The implications of Harris's analysis
are so widespread and her arguments so fascinating (perhaps
especially to parents) that I'm mainly just interested that you know
about her book. Still, I do think her discussion of group dynamics
reminds us of things that we know -- or ought to know -- but
"For example, the distinction between Fools
and the Wise is useful. . . . The distinction is based partly on the
idea that the conventional wisdom is often wrong and that a
community of non-professional investors -- some the equivalent of
stay-at-home moms like Judith Rich Harris -- may be a whole lot
smarter than the so-called experts."
The Motley Fool, July 1999
* "Fools were the happy fellows who were paid to entertain the king
and queen with self-effacing humor that instructed as it amused. In
fact, Fools were really the only members of their societies who
could tell the truth to the King or Queen without having their heads
"When you hear those in the media theorize that your child is
influenced more by peers than parents, they are ignoring the fact
that for many months peers are not really important, because whether
at home or in daycare, babies are adult-centered."
"How Much You Matter" in Child magazine, May 1999
"Another observer . . . went into homes to observe pairs of 9-month-old
peers as they became acquainted with one another over 16 near-daily
meetings. She found that during their 50-minute meetings the infants
directed significantly more of their behavior toward the peer than to
their own mother, the peer's mother, an adult observer, the multiple
toys available, or the physical surroundings."
--Carol O. Eckerman & Sharon M. Didow,
"Lessons Drawn from Observing Young Peers Together"
in Acta Paediatrica Scandinavica, 1988, vol. 77, p. 55-70
"Judith Rich Harris has published a new book, The Nurture
Assumption . . . . I have yet to read the book, but its description in
Newsweek makes Harris' position quite extreme. Logically, I can't
see how character would be affected by peers in the environment but
University of Central Florida, October 1998
"Is there anybody else out there who is concerned about the
widespread publicity about this new book on how parents don't
matter? . . . Of course I haven't yet read the book or the article
in question. But, as I have read accounts of them, I can't figure
out how the five studies we have done showing the relationship
between parental monitoring and associations with deviant
peers . . . doesn't count against the thesis that parents don't
--Tony Biglan, Ph.D.,
on the American Psychological Association Division 27 SCRA
(Society for Community Research and Action)
Email List, September 1998
"In my sermon six weeks ago on 'Numbness,' I said:
'. . . I confess I have yet to read the book,
so I am shooting from the hip here, but I have
heard few more cockamamie theories. . . .'
I am here this morning to eat a large portion of crow.
I cannot believe, in retrospect, that I was prepared to 'shoot from the hip'
like that and comment on a book I had not read, purely on the basis
of how other people had characterized it. Nobody should be so
foolish . . . .
I consider Judith Rich Harris' book . . . to be one of the most
important books I have read in years, and, if I had the power, I
would make it required reading for this congregation. It raises
challenges to some important assumptions we make that need to be
challenged. It confronts the difficulty of being open to ideas that
run counter to things we think we know."
--Rev. Dave Weissbard,
The Unitarian Universalist Church of
May 9 1999
"It has been about a year since the publication of Judith Rich
Harris' book The Nurture Assumption, in which she argues
that when it comes to child development, genes and peers matter more
than parents. At the time, I was hopeful that the book would be
dismissed. . . . Still, from time to time, I continue to
see her quoted as if her assertion that peers matter more than
parents is well-founded in the scientific literature."
--Wade F. Horn, PhD,
currently Assistant Secretary for Children
and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Washington Times, December 7, 1999)
"In her important book The Nurture Assumption, Judith Harris
 made a strong case for the alarming proposition that most
parents are fungible. She has persuaded me that most children --
perhaps 80% to 90% of all American children -- would have grown up
just as well socialized, just as well adjusted . . . if
they had been randomly switched among bassinets in the hospital
nursery. . . . Parents do, of course, influence how their
children behave at home, and those parents range from good to bad,
from skillful to clueless, in determining whether the homes their
children grow up in are happy and peaceful or hostile and
complaining; even Harris would acknowledge that much. She insists,
however, and I believe she is right, that most of the children of
most parents develop adult personalities and behavior patterns that
are largely determined by the interaction of their genes with the
extrafamilial experiences they have with teachers, with employers,
and especially with peers."
--David T. Lykken, PhD,
address on receiving the 2001 Award for
Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology, American
Psychological Association (in American Psychologist,
"No one denies that there is some truth to [Harris's] argument.
Even her detractors like the way she's blown the lid off dumb studies
that can't tell the difference between parents' influencing their
kids through genes and influencing them through actions. And they
applaud her for pointing out that children of divorce are not
necessarily ruined for life, notes psychologist Robert Emery of the
University of Virginia. But many of the nation's leading scholars of
child development accuse Harris of screwy logic, of misunderstanding
behavioral genetics and of ignoring studies that do not fit her thesis."
Newsweek, September 7, 1998.
"Harris' treatment of behavioral genetics is a model of scientific
writing. Her discussion of the twin research and its implications
for the nurture assumption are very clear and logically very
sophisticated. Her explanations of mistaken causal direction, of
two-way child-parent causal interactions, and of direct and indirect
genetic effects could serve as a logic primer for any consumer of
what `psychologists have shown' ."
--John D. Mullen, Ph.D.,
Metapsychology, March 12, 1999.
"I think Pinker's argument [in
The Blank Slate ] is wicked. He is saying -- along with
the US psychologist Judith Harris -- that parents have little or no
role in influencing their children's personalities. That is
misleading and dangerous. Parents who think they have little effect
on how their children turn out are substantially more likely to
abuse or neglect them. Pinker is giving a perfect excuse to be
violent to children. I think that is utterly immoral."
They F*** You Up,
The Observer, September 22, 2002.
"One seeming danger in questioning the potency of family experience
is the possibility that parents will become negligent if they learn
that their daily behaviors are not the only, or the most critical,
influence on their children. Perhaps they will stop caring for them.
This apprehension, too, is ill founded. Most parents care for their
children because, like chimpanzee mothers, they cannot do otherwise.
. . . Parents who minister to a crying infant, play
peek-a-boo with their one-year-old, and tell stories to their
five-year-old do not do so because they have decided, rationally,
that these acts of caring will have a major effect on their child's
future. . . . Parents will not stop nurturing children
simply because scientists might discover that many forces, including
temperament, share formative power with their actions toward and
affection for their children."
--Jerome Kagan, Ph.D.,
Galen's Prophecy: Temperament in Human Nature,