This book turned out to be not what i had expected, but still interesting. Not sure why it got all the bad press. It’s behavior realistic but focuses on the environment which is what the author finds interesting. I think genetics is more interesting, but this is interesting too.
The Nurture Assumption Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Revised and Updated Judith Rich Harris

Donald of the Apes

Donald was ten months old, and Gua seven and a half months, when she

came to live with the Kelloggs in 1931. Right from the start she was treated

like a human baby—that is, the way human babies were treated in the 1930s.

The Kelloggs put clothes on her, and the stiff shoes that babies wore in those

days. She wasn’t caged or tied up, which meant that she had to be watched

every second except when she was asleep (but then, the same was true of

Donald). She was potty trained. Her teeth were brushed. She was fed the same

foods as Donald and had the same naptimes and bathtimes. There is a photo­

graph in the Kelloggs’ book of Gua and Donald sitting side by side, dressed

identically in footed pajamas of the kind my mother used to call “Dr. Den-

tons.” Donald is frowning; Gua’s lips are curved upward in a modest smile.

They are holding hands.

Aside from the difference in temperament recorded in that revealing photo,

the two were remarkably well matched. Chimpanzees develop more rapidly in

infancy than humans, but Donald was two and a half months older and that

helped to even things up. They played together like siblings, chasing each

other around the furniture, roughhousing and giggling. Donald had a walker,

a big heavy thing, and one of his favorite sports, according to his parents, was

“to rush at the ape in this rumbling Juggernaut and laugh as she scurried to

keep from being run over, often without success.” But Gua didn’t hold grudges

and she enjoyed rough-and-tumble play. In fact, the two got along better

than most siblings. I f one o f them cried, the other would offer pats or hugs of

consolation. If Gua got up from her nap before Donald, she “could hardly be

kept from the door o f his room.” 1

Gua was more fun than a barrel full of Donalds. When the Kelloggs tickled

her or swung her around, she would laugh just like a human baby. If they tried

swinging Donald, he would cry. Gua was more affectionate (expressing her

affection with hugs and kisses) and more cooperative. While being dressed, the

ape—but not the boy—would push her arms into open sleeves and bend her

head to allow her bib to be tied on. If she did something wrong and was

scolded for it, she would utter plaintive “00-00” cries and throw herself into

the scolder’s arms, offering a “kiss of reconciliation” and uttering an audible

sigh of relief when she was permitted to bestow it.

In mastering the challenges of civilized life, Gua often caught on a little

faster than the stolid Donald. She was ahead in obeying spoken commands,

learning to feed herself with a spoon, and giving a warning signal when she

needed to use the potty (unfortunately, though, her potty training never

became completely reliable). The ape equaled or exceeded the child in most of

the tests that Dr. Kellogg devised: she was as adept as Donald at figuring out

how to use a hoe-shaped implement to pull a piece of apple toward her, and

learned more quickly to use a chair to reach a cookie suspended from the ceil­

ing. When the chair was moved to a new starting point, so that it had to be

pushed in a different direction to reach the cookie, Donald continued to

push it in the same direction as before, whereas Gua kept her eye on the

cookie and claimed the prize.2

There was one thing, however, in which the boy was clearly superior: Don­

ald was the better imitator. Does that surprise you? According to Frans de

Waal, a Dutch primatologist who spent several years observing the chim­

panzees and their human visitors at a Netherlands zoo, “Contrary to general

belief, humans imitate apes more than the reverse.”3

This was clearly the case with Donald and Gua. “It was Gua, in fact, who

was almost always the aggressor or leader in finding new toys to play with and

new methods o f play; while the human was inclined to take up the role of the

imitator or follower.”4 Thus, Donald picked up Gua’s annoying habit of biting

the wall. He also picked up a fair amount of chimpanzee language—the food

bark, for instance. How did Luella Kellogg feel, I wonder, when her fourteen-

month-old son ran to her with an orange in his hands, grunting “uhuh, uhuh,


The average American child can produce more than fifty words at nineteen

months5 and is starting to put them together to form phrases. At nineteen

months, Donald could speak only three English words.* At this point the

experiment was terminated and Gua went back to the zoo.

The Kelloggs had tried to train an ape to be a human. Instead, it seemed

that Gua was training their son to be an ape. Their experiment tells us more

about human nature than about the nature of the chimpanzee, but it also tells

us that there is remarkably little difference between them—at least in the first

nineteen months. In this chapter I will look at some of the differences between

chimpanzee nature and human nature that appear after the age of nineteen

months, and at some o f the similarities that remain.

One of the things that characterize these exceptional classrooms is the atti­

tude the students adopt toward the slower learners among them. Instead of

making fun of them, they cheer them on. There was a boy with reading prob­

lems in one of Rodriguez’s classes and when he started making progress the

whole class celebrated: “Every time he made a small step, the class would give

him a round of applause.”

[04:20:33] Emil – Deleet: using this effect was something Khan suggested

[04:20:37] Emil – Deleet: Khan from Khan Academy

[04:20:47] Emil – Deleet: to get the smarter kids to help the less smart

[04:20:57] Emil – Deleet: he suggested whole class achievements

[04:21:12] Emil – Deleet: so that the entire group benefits when everybody masters something

[04:21:20] Emil – Deleet: creating incentives for the smarter to help the others

[04:21:50] Emil – Deleet: teaching something also helps the teacher master it better, so both parties benefit

[04:21:51] Emil – Deleet: in theory

i would very much like to see experiments with this.

A well-dressed man often sports nothing more than a string around his waist to

which is tied the stretched-out foreskin of his penis. As a young boy matures, he

starts to act masculine by tying his penis to his waist string, and the Yanomamo

use this developmental phase to signify a boy’s age: “My son is now tying up his

penis.” A certain amount of teasing takes place at that age, since an inexperi­

enced youth will have trouble controlling his penis. It takes a while for the fore­

skin to stretch to the length required to keep it tied securely, and until then it is

likely to slip out of the string, much to the embarrassment of its owner and the

mirth of older boys and men.

In societies where education is compulsory, children rank “being left back

in school” as the third most scary thing they can think of, beaten out only by

“losing a parent” and “going blind.” “Wetting my pants in school” comes in

fourth.4 A Yanomamo boy with his penis not tied up is like an American child

who has wet his pants in school: he is a boy who has been left back. It would

be humiliating to walk around with a dangling penis when other boys his age

or younger were already tying theirs up. When the Yanomamo boy ties his

foreskin to the string around his waist, he’s not pretending to be his father: he’s

concerned about maintaining his status among the other children in the vil­

lage. It is the mirth of the older boys that provides the stick. It is the respect of

the younger ones that provides the carrot.

Then the mother, with the other women, accompanies her daughter into the

woods to adorn her.. . . One woman begins to rub a little red urucu over all her

body, which becomes pink. They then design wavy black lines, brown on her

face and body; they make lovely designs. When she is completely painted, they

push through the large hole in her ear those strips of young assai

leaves. . . . Then they take coloured feathers and push them through the holes

which they have at the corners of their mouths and in the middle of the lower

lip. One woman also prepares a long, thin, white stick, very smooth, which she

puts in the hole that they have between their nostrils. The young girl is really

lovely, painted and decorated like this! The women say: “Now let’s go.” The girl

walks ahead, and after her come the other women and the little girls.6

The parade wends slowly through the center of the village so that everyone

can admire the debutante. Though she is probably no more than fifteen years

old (menarche comes later to girls in tribal societies), she is now considered old

enough to marry. I f her father has already promised her to someone she will

take up residence with her new husband. She went into the cage a girl and

came out a woman, as though a magician had waved his magic wand: Poof,

you’re a woman!


They are supposed to behave that way in some societies. Yanomamo men,

if they don’t like the way their wife is behaving, hit her with a stick or shoot an

arrow into some part of her anatomy they can do without. Ask Helena, the

Brazilian girl who was kidnapped by the Yanomamo. When Helena came of

age she was claimed by a Yanomamo headman, Fusiwe, who already had four

wives. Fusiwe was a nice guy by Yanomamo standards—reader, she loved

him!—but he got angry at her once for something that wasn’t her fault and he

broke her arm.

According to the editorial in the Journal o f the American Medical Association,

Carl McElhinney was a child murderer. No, not a murderer of children, but a

seven-year-old boy who had committed a murder. The editorial was written in

1896; it was reprinted in JAMA a hundred years later as a historical curiosity.

I cannot give you any details of Carl’s crime because the focus of the edito­

rial was not on the murderer himself but on his mother.

Before Carl’s birth Mrs. McElhinney was an assiduous reader of novels. Morn­

ing, noon and night her mind was preoccupied with imaginative crimes of the

most bloody sort. Being a woman of fine and delicate perception, she appreci­

ated to an extent almost equaling reality the extravagant miseries, motive, vil­

lainies set down in novels, so that her mind was miserably contorted weeks

before the birth of her child Carl. The boy was an abnormal development of

criminality. He has a delight in the inhuman. It takes intense horror to please

this peculiar appetite. . . . I believe criminal record does not show a case so

remarkable as this. As the boy matures these mental conditions will mature. He

is dangerous to the community.

The cause of Carl’s abnormal development, according to the physician

who wrote the editorial, was the impression made on his mother’s mind by the

books she read while she was carrying him. Strong impressions on a woman’s

mind “may pervert or stop the growth, or cause defect in the child with which

she is pregnant.”

The editorial concluded, as editorials are wont to do, with a moral:

We as scientific physicians . . . should teach our patrons how to care for our

pregnant women, and the danger from maternal influences. The Spartans bred

warriors, and I believe this generation can breed a better people. One of the

future advances to help the generations to come, will be to teach them the

power of maternal influences, with better care of our pregnant women.1

The “better care of our pregnant women” would presumably include care­

ful screening of the reading material permitted to them.

Not so fast. It turns out that the ability of a criminal adoptive family to pro­

duce a criminal child—given suitable material to work with—depends on

where the family happens to live. The increase in criminality among Danish

adoptees reared in criminal homes was found only for a minority of the sub­

jects in this study: those who grew up in or around Copenhagen. In small

towns and rural areas, an adoptee reared in a criminal home was no more

likely to become a criminal than one reared by honest adoptive parents.14

It wasn’t the criminal adoptive parents who made the biological son of

criminals into a criminal: it was the neighborhood in which they reared him.

Neighborhoods differ in rates of criminal behavior, and I would guess that

neighborhoods with high rates of criminal behavior are exceedingly hard to

find in rural areas of Denmark.

she is correct:

data here (danish):

The links between divorce, personality problems in the parents, and trou­

blesome behavior in the children are complex: the effects go every which way.

People with personality problems are difficult to live with so they’re more

likely to get divorced; the same people are more likely, for genetic reasons, to

have difficult kids. There might even be a child-to-parent effect: a difficult kid

can put a real strain on a marriage. Earlier in the chapter I quoted the joke

about Johnny, the kid who could break any home, but it is not funny if you

have a kid like Johnny. Some children make every member of the family wish

they could get out. Judith Wallerstein talks about the heavy load o f guilt the

children o f divorcing parents are burdened with—the kids think their parents’

divorce was their fault. What Wallerstein doesn’t consider is that sometimes

there may be an element of truth in what the kids think. Divorce occurs less

often in families that contain a son than in those that only have daughters.38

The presence of that boy either makes the parents happier or makes the father

more reluctant to walk out. But what if the boy is not a satisfying kid? What if

he is nothing but trouble?

didnt know that. altho im not supersurprised, since a lot of people have told me that they prefer to have male children. “easier to handle” they say.

I see it in the news all the time; it always makes me angry. The Smith kid gets

into trouble and the judge threatens to throw his parents in jail. The Jones kid

burglarizes a house and his parents are fined for their failure to “exercise rea­

sonable control” over his activities. The Williams kid gets pregnant and her

parents are criticized for not keeping track of where she was and what she was

doing. One set of parents, when they found it impossible to keep their teenage

daughter out of trouble, chained her to the radiator. They were arrested for

child abuse.61

cant win…

Good things tend to go together. So do bad things. These are correlations.

Educational psychologist Howard Gardner would have us believe that there

are several different “intelligences” and that someone who was stinted on one

might have gotten a generous helping of another. But the fact is that people

who score low on tests o f one kind of intelligence are also likely to score low

on tests of other kinds.68 We are pleased when we hear about a child who is

mentally retarded in most respects but who is a whiz at drawing or calculating:

it appeals to our sense of fairness. But such cases are uncommon. Far more

commonly, nature is unfair to mentally retarded children by giving them no

talents and making them physically clumsy as well. That is why they compete

in the Special Olympics instead of the regular Olympics.

“Everything is related to everything else,” said a psychologist whose spe­

cialty was statistics. He told the story of a pair of researchers who collected

data on 57,000 high school students in Minnesota. The researchers asked the

kids about their leisure activities and educational plans, whether they liked

school, and how many siblings they had. They asked about their fathers’

occupation, their mothers’ and fathers’ education, and their families’ atti­

tudes toward college. There were fifteen items in all and 105 possible correla­

tions between pairs of items.* All 105 yielded significant correlations, most at

levels of significance that would be expected by chance less than .000001 of

the time.69

with the power of n=57k, sure, one can find even very small correlations!

On the other hand, I don’t want to raise false hopes. So let me begin with a

true story, told by my late colleague David Lykken, about a pair of reared-apart

twins—one of the pairs studied at the University of Minnesota by the research

team of which he was a member.

They are identical twins separated in infancy; they grew up in different

adoptive homes. One became a concert pianist, talented enough to perform as

a soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra. The other cannot play a note.

Since these women have the same genes, the disparity must be due to a dif­

ference in their environments. Sure enough, one of the adoptive mothers was

a music teacher who gave piano lessons in her home. The parents who adopted

the other twin were not musical at all.

Only it was the nonmusical parents who produced the concert pianist and

the piano teacher whose daughter cannot play a note.1

Not that being rejected by one’s peers is the end of the world. It hurts like

hell while it’s happening and it does leave permanent scars, but it doesn’t

keep a kid from being socialized (you can identify even with a group that

rejects you), and I’ve noticed that many interesting people went through a

period of rejection during childhood. Or got moved around a lot, which has

similar effects. I was moved around a lot as a child and went through four

years of rejection, and there is no doubt that I would have been a different per­

son if it hadn’t happened. A more sociable person, but more superficial. Cer­

tainly not a writer o f books—a job that has as its first requirement the

willingness to spend a good deal of time alone. The biologist and author E. O.

Wilson recalls his childhood this way:

I was an only child whose family moved around quite a bit in southern Alabama

and northwestern Florida. I attended 14 different schools in 11 years. So it was,

perhaps, inevitable that I grew up as something of a solitary and found nature

my most reliable companion. In the beginning, nature provided adventure;

later, it was the source of much deeper emotional and aesthetic pleasure.17

I attended 4 different ground schools, so i fit the pattern as well.