Steven Pinker at Edge:
“We are in considerable doubt that you will develop into our professional stereotype of what an experimental psychologist should be.” When the Harvard psychology department kicked Judith Rich Harris out of their PhD program in 1960, they could not have known how true the words in their expulsion letter would turn out to be.
Harris, an active Edge contributor for twenty years, and a charter member (and exemplar) of The Third Culture, died this week at the age of 80. After leaving Harvard, she wrote textbooks in child psychology until she could no longer believe what she was writing. The epiphany came when she was reiterating the conventional wisdom that adolescents were attempting to attain mature adult status and realized, “If teenagers wanted to be like adults they wouldn’t be shoplifting nail polish from drugstores or hanging off overpasses to spray I LOVE YOU LIƨA on the arch. If they really aspired to ‘mature status’ they would be doing boring adult things like sorting the laundry and figuring out their income taxes. Teenagers aren’t trying to be like adults: they are trying to distinguish themselves from adults!”
Harris expanded this insight into a radical new theory of socialization—that children’s personalities are shaped by genes and peers, not parents—which she laid out in a 1995 article in the flagship journal Psychological Review and a 1998 bestseller, The Nurture Assumption.