Debunking ‘Triple Package’ in Success

Chabris and Hart throw junk social science into the trash.

Christopher Chabris and Joshua Hart have punctured the anecdotal folklore propounded by Amy Chua (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother), and Jed Rubenfeld (The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America) that certain ethnic groups are more successful than others because of three cultural traits. Specifically, a parochial sense of group superiority, a sense of insecurity (presumably linked to ethnic identity and ostracism), and impulse control.

The researcher did the data analysis of 1,258 US adults, and here’s their three key findings [my emphasis]:

First, the more successful participants had higher cognitive ability, more educated parents and better impulse control. People scoring in the top half on our intelligence measure whose parents had college degrees earned more awards, made more money and were more educated than those scoring below average whose parents lacked college degrees.

This finding is exactly what you would expect from accepted social science. Long before “The Triple Package,” researchers determined that the personality trait of conscientiousness, which encompasses the triple package’s impulse control component, was an important predictor of success — but that a person’s intelligence and socioeconomic background were equally or even more important.

Our second finding was that the more successful participants did not possess greater feelings of ethnocentrism or personal insecurity. In fact, for insecurity, the opposite was true: Emotional stability was related to greater success.

Finally, we found no special “synergy” among the triple package traits. According to Professors Chua and Rubenfeld, the three traits have to work together to create success — a sense of group superiority creates drive only in people who also view themselves as not good enough, for example, and drive is useless without impulse control. But in our data, people scoring in the top half on all three traits were no more successful than everyone else.

I applaud the researchers for their work and am content that we can now lay the Tiger Mom/Triple Package malarkey in the trash, with other junk science, like fatty food is bad for you, antioxidants delay aging, and Freudian psychotherapy.

It seems like impulse control is a strong factor, but the others in the trifecta are junk.

Nonetheless, I’m sure will continue to hear this nonsense popping up for decades. After all, it was just a few months ago when a friend suggested that we go to dinner somewhere ‘healthy’ for a change. And when I asked what she meant by that she said, ‘low fat’. Sigh.

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Work ecologist. Founder, Work Futures. The ecology of work and the anthropology of the future.

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