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BOOK REVIEW: The Marvelous Learning Animal: What Makes Human Nature Unique

Review by Bruce Bower

As the inventor of the time-out procedure for disciplining misbehaving kids, Staats transformed modern parenting. Now he wants to give a time-out to popular biology-based explanations of human behavior. Genes and brains orchestrate bodies, he argues, but don’t determine behavior or inner states such as intelligence and cruelty.

Brain activity that characterizes poor readers, for example, often reflects how those individuals have learned to deal with written material, Staats says, not an inherently wayward brain. Misguided reinforcement of children’s behavior by parents and teachers results in learning disabilities, emotional disorders and even autism symptoms, in his view.

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