In his review of Peter Mandler’s Return from the Natives: How Margaret Mead Won the Second World War and Lost the Cold War, Chris Knight characterises as “nonsense” Mead’s belief that the swaddling of Russian infants led to adult Russians seeking “maximum total gratifications” (“The rise and fall of a mother”, Books, 2 May). Yet this is an idea open to empirical test.
The classic study of British adults by Frieda Goldman-Eisler (1951) showed that early weaning and its combination with impulsiveness-aggression might prompt the development of oral pessimism. So I would expect Russian child- rearing practices, especially swaddling, to have a measurable influence on the development of personality.
Honorary research fellow in psychology
University College London