Judith Rich Harris

Judith Rich Harris (born February 10, 1938) is a psychology researcher and the author of The Nurture Assumption, a book criticizing the belief that parents are the most important factor in child development, and presenting evidence which contradicts that belief.

Harris has been a resident of Middletown Township, New Jersey.[1]

Early life, education

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.[2]

Harris graduated from Tucson High School and attended the University of Arizona, and then Brandeis University where she graduated magna cum laude in 1959.[2] Harris was dismissed from the PhD program in psychology at Harvard in 1960, because the 'originality and independence' of her work were not to Harvard's standards.[3][4] She was granted a master's degree in her field, before departing.

Marriage and illness

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.[2]

Research: 1977–1995

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,[5] which received the American Psychological Association's George A. Miller Award for an Outstanding Recent Article in General Psychology.[6] Ironically, George A. Miller was chair of the Department of Psychology at Harvard in 1960, when Harris was dismissed from that PhD program (see above)[3][4]

Is it dangerous to claim that parents have no power at all (other than genetic) to shape their child's personality, intelligence, or the way he or she behaves outside the family home? ... A confession: When I first made this proposal ten years ago, I didn't fully believe it myself. I took an extreme position, the null hypothesis of zero parental influence, for the sake of scientific clarity. ... The establishment's failure to shoot me down has been nothing short of astonishing.

Judith Rich Harris, 2006.[7]

The Nurture Assumption

Harris's most famous work, The Nurture Assumption, was first published in 1998, with a revised version published in 2009.[8]

In this book, she challenges the idea that the personality of adults is determined chiefly by the way they were raised by their parents.[9] 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. Harris also argues against the effects of birth order.[10] 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 Alike

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.[11]

She proposes that three distinct systems shape personality:

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 publications

See also


  1. Gladwell, Malcolm. "Do Parents Matter?", the New Yorker, August 17, 1998. Accessed July 3, 2007. "But her article was accepted, and in the space below her name, where authors typically put 'Princeton University' or 'Yale University' or 'Oxford University,' Harris proudly put 'Middletown, New Jersey.'"
  2. 1 2 3 "Author Profile: Judith Rich Harris". judithrichharris.info. Retrieved September 10, 2015.
  3. 1 2 Ridley, M. 2003. Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, & What Makes Us Human, Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-000678-5
  4. 1 2 Harris, J. R. (2006). No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality. W.W. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-05948-9
  5. Harris, Judith Rich (1995). "Where is the child's environment? A group socialization theory of development.". Psychological Review. 102 (3): 458–489. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.102.3.458. ISSN 0033-295X.
  6. Scott Sleek (October 1998). "Blame your peers, not your parents, author says". Monitor. APA. Archived from the original on 4 May 2009. Retrieved September 10, 2015.
  7. http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_6.html#harris
  8. "The Nurture Assumption website (Judith Rich Harris)". Judithrichharris.info. Retrieved 2011-05-24.
  9. The Nurture Assumption, Chapter 1
  10. "Judith Rich Harris on Birth Order". Judithrichharris.info. 2002-02-08. Retrieved 2011-05-24.
  11. http://judithrichharris.info/n2a/

External links

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