Cultural context shapes essentialist beliefs about religion

Lisa Chalik, Sarah Jane Leslie, Marjorie Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study investigates the processes by which essentialist beliefs about religious categories develop. Children (ages 5 and 10) and adults (n = 350) from 2 religious groups (Jewish and Christian), with a range of levels of religiosity, completed switched-at-birth tasks in which they were told that a baby had been born to parents of 1 religion but raised by parents of another religion. Results indicated that younger children saw religion-based categories as possible essential kinds, regardless of the child's own religious background, but that culture-specific patterns emerged across development. This work shows that cultural context plays a powerful role in guiding the development of essentialist beliefs about religious categories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1178-1187
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017


  • Psychological essentialism
  • Religion
  • Social categorization
  • Social-cognitive development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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