No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality

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W. W. Norton & Company, Feb 15, 2010 - Psychology - 352 pages
3 Reviews

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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Harris is a storyteller. She likes to tell a good plot and she does it well. She builds it like a spider spitting out a complex structure. And the strength of her web lies in her thorough background research. She doesn’t take no for an answer and she certainly is not one to be tamed by authority alone. “The truth of the statement doesn’t rest on who said it”, declares Harris.
Armed with a genuine passion to de clutter the myths and hypes in the fields of developmental and evolutionary psychology, Harris goes through the experimental data with a fine toothed comb; uncovering biases and unfounded popular ideas in parenting, genetics, behavioural, cognitive and biological sciences to list out what makes us each different from the other.
The reader is led very systematically through various points that might appear at first logical in pointing towards personality differences between people. Good hard evidence based on experimental data and sometimes the lack of it paves the way to the real core of the book. Harris likes to call this sifting of evidence as eliminating the ‘red herrings’. In the process she educates the reader in psychological research methods, in recent concepts and theories of developmental and behavioural psychology. She entertains by pretending to be a detective. And she infuses intrigue in the non specialist reader, who merrily forgets that this book borders on being a contemporary text in its field.
However, to a professional, this book may serve well to pick up some fresh ideas and perspectives as well as being a good tool in identifying a few holes to base some future research on.
This book is strong in its breath. Harris plucks explanations and concepts from varied places; from conjoined and other twin studies, to birth order to autistic research, to the tribal societies of the Amazon. Sometimes these smaller engraved gems are delightful insights on their own. But the reader is always gently steered back to addressing the main topic. Harris uses this weaving technique throughout the book and it probably is one of the reasons this book reads like a cool mystery novel rather than a text. A feat well executed by Harris, who very overtly states this intention right at the beginning.
 

Contents

An Appreciation of Differences
1
That Damn Rectangle
27
Monkey Business
51
Birth Order and Other Environmental Differences
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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About the author (2010)

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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