People’s personalities are quite stable, etched early in life in muscles and minds. But Rutgers University psychologist Daniel Hart and colleagues find that over time, the personalities of children in poor neighborhoods not only change more than do those of wealthier children, but also run a higher risk of taking a turn for the worse. The more rotten the barrel, their findings suggest, the more apples go bad.

“I don’t want to demonize these kids,” Hart says. “Most turn out to be very good, no...


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