July 1995 Vol. 102, No. 3, 458-489
© 1995 by the American Psychological Association
For personal use onlynot for distribution
Where Is the Child's Environment? A Group Socialization Theory of Development Judith Rich Harris
Middletown, New Jersey
Do parents have any important long-term effects on the development of their child's personality? This article examines the evidence and concludes that the answer is no. A new theory of development is proposed: that socialization is context-specific and that outside-the-home socialization takes place in the peer groups of childhood and adolescence. Intra- and intergroup processes, not dyadic relationships, are responsible for the transmission of culture and for environmental modification of children's personality characteristics. The universality of children's groups explains why development is not derailed by the wide variations in parental behavior found within and between societies. ________________________________________
In 1983, after many dozens of pages spent reviewing the literature on the effects parents have on children, Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin paused for a critical overview of the field of socialization research. They questioned the size and robustness of the effects they had just summarized; they wondered whether the number of significant correlations was greater than that expected by chance. They cited other research indicating that biological or adoptive siblings do not develop similar personalities as a result of being reared in the same household. This was their conclusion: These findings imply strongly that there is very little impact of the physical environment that parents provide for children and very little impact of parental characteristics that must be essentially the same for all children in a family Indeed, the implications are either that parental behaviors have no effect, or that the only effective aspects of parenting must vary greatly from one child to another within the same family. ( Maccoby & Martin, 1983, p. 82 ) Since 1983, many developmental psychologists have focused on the second of Maccoby and Martin's two possible implications, "that the only effective aspects of parenting must vary greatly from one child to another." The other possibility, "that parental behaviors have no effect," has never been considered as a serious alternative. This article examines both alternatives. I begin by showing why "must vary greatly from one child to another" cannot explain the results that puzzled Maccoby and Martin. Then I consider the possibility "that parental behaviors have no effect." The conclusion reached is that, within the range of families that have been studied, parental behaviors have no effect on the psychological characteristics their children will have as adults. To explain this outcome, I propose a theory of group socialization (GS theory), based on the findings of behavioral genetics, on sociological views of intra- and intergroup processes, on psychological research showing that learning is highly context-specific, and on evolutionary considerations. Does the Family Environment Matter?
By the time they are adults, adoptive siblings who were reared in the same home will, on average, bear no resemblance to each other in personality. Biological siblings who were reared in the same home will be somewhat more alike, but still not very similar. Even identical (monozygotic) twins reared in the same home will not be identical in personality. They will not be noticeably more alike than identical twins reared in separate homes ( Bouchard, Lykken, McGue, Segal, & Tellegen, 1990 ; Plomin & Daniels, 1987 ; Scarr, 1992 ). These are some of the findings of the field of developmental behavioral genetics. The data on which they are based consist of...