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Judith Rich Harris. No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality. New York: Norton, 2006.

It was evolutionary psychologists who first proposed the idea that the mind is, as Stephen Pinker put in How the Mind Works, "not a single organ but a system of organs, which we can think of as psychological faculties of mental modules." Pinker's own research has focused on the language module.

Harris carries the idea of specialized mental modules one stop further, using it to explain how children become socialized and how, at the same time, each individual develops a unique personality. She proposes three mental systems--the relationship system, the socialization system, and the status system--to account for the variations of behavior that cannot be attributed to genes. The relationship system collects information about specific individuals; this is the source of our love of gossip. The socialization system collects information about the members of social categories such as"men," "women," "girls," and "boys." It is responsible for adapting children to their culture.

The status system has the hardest job: this system collects information about the self. One of the most important things that children have to learn while they are growing up is what sorts of people they are. Are they particularly strong, fast, good-looking, etc.? This self-knowledge is essential for working out a strategy of behavior that will serve them well in their adult lives--a strategy tailored to their own strengths and weaknesses and to the opportunities afforded by their environments. Thus, people become more alike in some respects (due to the way the socialization works) and less alike in others (an effect of the status system).

In this book, Harris, the author of The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), provides a new answer to the question of why humans are motivated both to conform and compete. It's the conforming that's responsible for socialization. The competing explains why, among all the people on earth, there are no two alike.

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Author:Levinson, Martin H.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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