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In Context #1 (Spring, 1999, pp. 9-10); copyright 1999 by The Nature Institute

Seduced by Abstractions

Three Seductive Ideas
Jerome Kagan (Harvard University Press, Cambridge; 1998).

Reviewed by Craig Holdrege.

One of the most significant difficulties for researchers is to become aware of their own assumptions and the boundaries of their ways of viewing and methodologies. When this attention is lacking, it is all too easy to make claims and draw conclusions that go far beyond the implicitly set limits. Such general, all-encompassing concepts often become popular guiding notions, which the lay person ends up accepting as "scientific facts." Jerome Kagan has chosen to critique three such "seductive ideas" in the behavioral sciences:

"Most psychological processes generalize broadly." For example, psychologists speak of intelligence or aggression regardless of whether they're dealing with rats or humans in experimental or natural situations.

"Infant determinism, which holds that some experiences during the first two years of life are preserved indefinitely."

"Most human action is motivated by a desire for sensory pleasure."