Three Seductive Ideas

Three Seductive Ideas

Three Seductive Ideas

Three Seductive Ideas


Do the first two years of life really determine a child's future? Are human beings, like other primates, only motivated by pleasure? Do people actually possess stable traits like intelligence, fear, etc.? Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan challenges some of our most cherished notions about human nature.


The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the ground of particular observation; it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational interpretation.

A. N. Whitebead, 1929

If you had lived in Europe as the fifteenth century came to a close, you would have believed that witches cause disease, that harsh punishment of a child creates an adaptive fear of authority, and that pursuit of sexual pleasure depletes a man's vital energy and guarantees exclusion from heaven. Today, five centuries later, the vital but still young sciences of human behavior are friendly to a number of equally fallacious assumptions. This book critically examines three of these potentially misleading ideas and suggests some of the reasons for their continued popularity.

The first flawed belief is that most psychological processes generalize broadly. Therefore, many believe it is not terribly important to specify the agent being studied, whether rat, monkey, or human, or the context in which the subject acts, whether laboratory, natural habitat, workplace, or home, because broad conclusions can be drawn regardless of the agent and context. Instances of this loose thinking can be found in every technical journal, but especially in books written for the general public. a quality called intelligence, for example, is applied to animals, human infants, college students, and software programs. the evidence used to infer this quality includes rats running mazes, the survival of . . .

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