PARENTS AND PEERS
As a psychologist very familiar with the research, I think in “Do Parents Matter?” Judith Harris is conflating personality and behavior, which are two different concepts. Personality has more to do with genetic traits related to mood and energy (which plenty of research indicates are strongly influenced by genetics). Behavior, on the other hand, depends on context and is guided by laws of behaviorism—that is, reinforcement principles. If parents do (or do not) provide reinforcement for specific types of behavior, you will either see or not see those behaviors. Likewise, certain behaviors will be reinforced in the classroom by teachers.

I teach these basic principles. When people apply them, they work “like magic.” Simple but effective television shows, such as Supernanny, demonstrate their power. To suggest that parents “do not matter” or have little influence is beyond laughable. There is no doubt that peers matter, as Harris says—but the research shows they matter more when the parents ignore their impact, do not address their impact or do not take actions to ameliorate negative impact.

“Rhombs99”
adapted from a comment at www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind-and-Brain

BRAIN TRAINERS
We disagree with the conclusion Robert Goodier presents in “Brain Training’s Unproven Hype” [Head Lines]. As professionals working in this area, we use personalized computer-based brain-training protocols to help children and adults improve targeted skills. The improvements transfer to other tasks and endure over time.

The story concludes with the message that exercise, a good diet and an active social life have brain benefits, but it is doubtful that software can improve on these standbys: “the evidence isn’t in.” As for this article? Frankly, we have our doubts. The evidence presented here is incomplete and unconvincing.

Rohn Kessler and Amy Price
Boca Raton, Fla.

IMPERFECTIONS
Emily Laber-Warren’s article, “Can You Be Too Perfect?” contains a clear description of the nature of perfectionism and the ways in which it can bedevil the lives of those who experience it. Yet as a psychologist who has studied the issue for more than 30 years, I suggest that “healthy perfectionism” is a contradiction in terms—what we really need is a distinction between perfectionism and striving for excellence.

Perfectionism is about being perfect—not simply outstanding. The emotional problem for perfectionists is not failure per se but rather the perceived meaning of failure: it implies a personal flaw. Perfectionism is a self-esteem issue; a common conviction for perfectionists is that “unless I am perfect, I am worthless.” Perfection is imagined to be the road to personal acceptability. In contrast, many conscientious, positive, striving people have excellence and success as their goals, but they do not worry that imperfect performance is a sign of personal failing.

Perfectionists can have many positive qualities, none of which would disappear if we could magically eliminate their perfectionism. In counseling for this problem, a specific recovery process is launched with the aim of helping perfectionists feel more acceptable for who they are, not for what they do.

Thomas S. Greenspon
Minneapolis

I read with interest your article on perfectionism. I am an educated, degreed woman of 50 years, and I consider myself to be of above-average intelligence. I took the quiz knowing that I am a nonperfectionist. I have always been very content with that.

I was completely fine with the article until the author compared nonperfectionists to Homer Simpson. How insulting. I guess I should compare perfectionists to Frazier, or Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, or Monk to be equally as insulting to the author, who must consider herself a “healthy perfectionist.”

I believe everyone has some things that they “obsess” over. I like my gardens to be weed-free, but if they are not it is usually because I lack time to maintain them—and I can still sleep at night. I will try to make my drawings and paintings perfect. I love to sew and want my embroidery to look beautiful. My husband will spend hours on a presentation but not on a home maintenance project. My children both have things that they are “picky” about. I think “healthy” is being picky about the important things and letting the rest go.

Kathleen Stauffer
via e-mail

A MATTER OF WIRING
It is my view that the theory presented by Christof Koch in “A Theory of Consciousness” [Consciousness Redux] is incomplete science at best and philosophy at worst. Any study deserving to be considered science must be at least testable. My view is that the definition of integration as meaningful connections between pieces of data is arbitrary and requires more specifics to be scientific. The transistors inside a microprocessor may have a limited number of connections between the registers (memory locations), but software provides nearly unlimited possibilities for sorting the data. The same could also be said for the performance of the human mind, using the reasonable assumption that our brains are more or less constant between individuals and that it is our innovation and experience that count.

Dave Rauschenfels
Minneapolis

EVOLVING TREATMENT
Do ADHD Drugs Take a Toll on the Brain?” by Edmund S. Higgins, raises a question about the root causes of secondary symptoms or conditions in patients with ADHD.

In my experience of more than 45 years as a psychologist, often working with ADHD individuals from preschoolers to senior citizens, I have observed cases in which patients develop anxieties and depressions as a result of a mismatch between their medical treatment and their developing brain. As they accumulate life experience or deal with short-term stressors, their medication regimen may need adjustment. Unfortunately, practitioners may see the anxiety or depression and treat it as a new problem, without exploring the underlying developmental causes that may be related to the primary ADHD.

Treatment of ADHD entails understanding its impact at all life stages. A child may fail a class, not do homework or drive unsafely, and exploration could reveal medications falling below therapeutically effective levels at such times. Once their treatment is “fine-tuned” to reflect these changes, the difficulties may resolve without adding another diagnosis or class of medications.

Teaching individuals self-monitoring and medication scheduling is imperative. We should be cautious about adding a second diagnosis to anyone with ADHD before current treatment has been evaluated from a developmental perspective.

Gust Jenson
Menomonie, Wis.