The assumption that natural and social categories have deeper “essences” is a fundamental feature of the conceptual system, with wide-ranging consequences for behavior. What are the developmental origins of this assumption? We propose that essentialism emerges in part from a bias in the process of generating explanations that leads reasoners to overuse inherent or intrinsic features. Consistent with this proposal, the inherence bias in 4-year-olds’ explanations predicted the strength of their essentialist beliefs (Study 1; N = 64), and manipulations of the inherence bias in 4- to 7-year-olds (Studies 2 and 3; N = 112 each) led to subsequent changes in the essentialist beliefs of children who attended to the manipulation. These findings contribute to our understanding of the origins of essentialism.
- Inherence bias
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology