No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality

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Overview

A groundbreaking theory of personality.
The author of the controversial book The Nurture Assumption tackles the biggest mystery in all of psychology: What makes people differ so much in personality and behavior? It can't just be "nature and nurture," because even identical twins who grow up together—same genes, same parents—have different personalities. And if psychologists can't explain why identical twins are different, they also can't ...

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No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality

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Overview

A groundbreaking theory of personality.
The author of the controversial book The Nurture Assumption tackles the biggest mystery in all of psychology: What makes people differ so much in personality and behavior? It can't just be "nature and nurture," because even identical twins who grow up together—same genes, same parents—have different personalities. And if psychologists can't explain why identical twins are different, they also can't explain why each of us differs from everyone else. Why no two people are alike.
Harris turns out to be well suited for the role of detective—it isn't easy to pull the wool over her eyes. She rounds up the usual suspects and shows why none of the currently popular explanations for human differences—birth order effects, for example, or interactions between genes and environment—can be the perpetrator she is looking for. None of these theories can solve the mystery of human individuality.
The search for clues carries Harris into some fascinating byways of science. The evidence she examines ranges from classic experiments in social psychology to cutting-edge research in neuroscience. She looks at studies of twins, research on autistic children, observations of chimpanzees, birds, and even ants.
Her solution is a startlingly original one: the first completely new theory of personality since Freud's. Based on a principle of evolutionary psychology—the idea that the human mind is a toolbox of special-purpose devices—Harris's theory explains how attributes we all have in common can make us different.
This is the story of a scientific quest, but it is also the personal story of a courageous and innovative woman who refused to be satisfied with "what everyone knows is true."

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
A display of scientific courage and imagination.— William Salatan
William Salatan - New York Times
“A display of scientific courage and imagination.”
William Saletan
In short, the evolutionary logic that makes us different from one another will gradually make us different from ourselves, context by context. Personality — behavior that is "consistent across time and place," as one textbook puts it — will fade. We'll miss characters like Harris, the little woman from New Jersey who boasted of giving psychologists a "wedgie" and tried to solve the puzzle of human nature. There won't be another one like her.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Why do identical twins who grow up together differ in personality? Harris attempts to solve that mystery. Her initial thesis in The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do is replaced here with a stronger, more detailed one based on evolutionary psychology. Reading this book is akin to working your way through a mystery novel-complete with periodic references to Sherlock Holmes. And Harris has a knack for interspersing scientific and research-laden text with personal anecdotes. Initially, she refutes five red herring theories of personality differences, including differences in environment and gene-environment interactions. Eventually, Harris presents her own theory, starting from modular notions of the brain (as Steven Pinker puts it, "the mind is not a single organ but a system of organs"). Harris offers a three-systems theory of personality: there's the relationship system, the socialization system and the status system. And while she admits her theory of personality isn't simple, it is thought provoking. Harris ties up the loose ends of the new theory, showing how the development of the three systems creates personality. Harris's writing is highly entertaining, which will help readers stick with her through the elaboration of a fairly complex theory. 12 b&w illus. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this follow-up to her controversial 1998 book, The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Harris presents what may be the best personality theory since Sigmund Freud's. Why do identical twins with the same genes and raised in the same household grow up with different personalities? According to Harris, adept brains and complex culture account for the difference. With neither a doctorate nor a university behind her, Harris more than compensates with intelligence, dogged research, lively writing, a love of mystery, and droll humor. She wrestles bulging files of research data into shape, in the process taking down some champions of the old order, including Freud, James Watson, Eleanor Maccoby, and Frank Sulloway. Her three-systems theory of personality postulates a modular brain that must from infancy learn the particulars of relationships along with abstract principles of language and socialization. Harris makes behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology enjoyable and accessible to general readers as well as scholars. Essential for general and academic libraries.-E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
As she did in The Nurture Assumption (1998), independent scholar Harris makes waves again with a new theory of personality to explain why no two people are alike. Based on behavioral genetics and evolutionary and social psychology, and fitted into a modular theory of how the brain works (e.g., you have a face-recognition module, a categorization module), she posits three distinct systems as the molders of personality. One is a relationship system that allows babies to distinguish family from strangers and throughout life allows us to build a "mental rolodex" of information on discrete individuals. The second is a socialization system. Sure, parents count, she says, but what turns us into social beings is what happens in school and at play, as we become members of a group, learn the pecking order and absorb the group's culture within the larger cultural context. Third is a status system by which we acquire self-knowledge by measuring how we stand up against rivals, and want to beat them out. These dynamics play out against a hefty genetic contribution that makes individuals more or less aggressive, shy, anxious, attractive and so on. There's a lot to be said in favor of these systems (and genes), and Harris lays out telling points in their defense-while also laying out some of the leading lights of personality psychology for their sins of omission and commission. But is that all? There is something a little too rational and static, a little too game-theoretical in Harris's approach. Sure the systems can explain, as Harris set out to do, why identical twins raised together have distinct personalities. But the model needs tweaking not only to deal with overlaps across systems, but also toexplain how individuals change group dynamics: What forces create the personalities who are the movers and shakers as opposed to those moved and shaken by "the systems"?Credit Harris for moving personality away from simplistic theories-but not far enough away-and expect some lively rebuttals.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393329711
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/11/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,416,804
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith Rich Harris is an independent investigator and a former writer of textbooks in child development. She lives in New Jersey with her husband.

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Table of Contents


Preface     ix
An Appreciation of Differences     1
That Damn Rectangle     27
Monkey Business     51
Birth Order and Other Environmental Differences Within the Family     83
The Person and the Situation     115
The Modular Mind     143
The Relationship System     163
The Socialization System     183
The Status System     209
Denouement     241
Notes     267
References     287
Index     311
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