Generics About Categories and Generics About Individuals: Same Phenomenon or Different?

Lin Bian, Andrei Cimpian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Language can be used to express broad, unquantified generalizations about both categories (e.g., “Dogs bark”) and individuals (e.g., “Daisy barks”). Although these two classes of statements are commonly assumed to arise from the same linguistic phenomenon—genericity—the literature to date has not offered a direct experimental comparison of the conditions under which they are endorsed (i.e., their truth conditions). Here, we provide such a comparison by testing whether endorsement of generics about categories and individuals is affected in similar ways by the conceptual content of the properties being generalized. Consistent with this possibility, six experiments (N = 1,265) and an internal meta-analysis reveal that endorsement of generics about both categories and individuals is facilitated when the properties being generalized are distinctive or dangerous, suggesting systematic similarities in the truth conditions of generics about categories and individuals. The experiments also suggest that these facilitative effects do not extend to statements with overt quantification (all/always and some/sometimes). Thus, the present studies provide the first empirical evidence indicating that generics about categories and generics about individuals represent a unified phenomenon. These findings contribute to theories of genericity and inform our understanding of how language shapes social interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1836-1855
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2021


  • Generalization
  • Generic statements
  • Generics
  • Quantifiers
  • Language
  • Humans
  • Generalization, Psychological
  • Linguistics
  • Concept Formation
  • Databases, Factual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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