From Scientific American:
In 1998 Judith Rich Harris, an independent researcher and textbook author, published The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. The book provocatively argued that parents matter much less—at least when it comes to determining the behavior of their children—than is typically assumed. Instead Harris argued that a child’s peer group is far more critical. The Nurture Assumption has recently been reissued in an expanded and revised form (Free Press, 2009). Scientific American Mind contributing editor Jonah Lehrer chatted with Harris about her critics, the evolution of her ideas and why teachers can be more important than parents.
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND: Freud famously blamed the problems of the child on the parents. (He was especially hard on mothers.) In The Nurture Assumption, an influential work that was published 10 years ago, you argued that parents are mostly innocent and that peers play a much more influential role. What led you to write the book?
JUDITH RICH HARRIS: It wasn’t just Freud! Psychologists of all persuasions, even behaviorists such as B. F. Skinner, thought the parents were responsible, one way or the other, for whatever went wrong with a child. One of my purposes in writing the book was to reassure parents. I wanted them to know that parenting didn’t have to be such a difficult, anxiety-producing job, that there are many different ways to rear a child, and that no convincing evidence existed that one way produces better results than another.
But my primary motive was scientific. During the years I spent writing child development textbooks for college students, I never questioned the belief that parents have a good deal of power to shape the personalities of their children. (This is the belief I now call the “nurture assumption.”) When I finally began to have doubts and looked more closely at the evidence, I was appalled. Most of the research is so deeply flawed that it is meaningless. And studies using more rigorous methods produce results that do not support the assumption.