Editors' note, 7/8/09: This article was adapted for Scientific American Mind magazine from the Mind Matters article, "Do Parents Matter?", which was published online at ScientificAmerican.com on April 9, 2009.
In 1998 Judith Rich Harris, an independent researcher and textbook author, published The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. The book provocatively argued that parents matter much less—at least when it comes to determining the behavior of their children—than is typically assumed. Instead Harris argued that a child’s peer group is far more critical. The Nurture Assumption has recently been reissued in an expanded and revised form (Free Press, 2009). Scientific American Mind contributing editor Jonah Lehrer chatted with Harris about her critics, the evolution of her ideas and why teachers can be more important than parents.