Making Boundaries Great Again: Essentialism and Support for Boundary-Enhancing Initiatives

Steven O. Roberts, Arnold K. Ho, Marjorie Rhodes, Susan A. Gelman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Psychological essentialism entails a focus on category boundaries (e.g., categorizing people as men or women) and an increase in the conceptual distance between those boundaries (e.g., accentuating the differences between men and women). Across eight studies, we demonstrate that essentialism additionally entails an increase in support for boundary-enhancing legislation, policies, and social services, and that it does so under conditions that disadvantage social groups, as well as conditions that benefit them. First, individual differences in essentialism were associated with support for legislation mandating that transgender people use restrooms corresponding with their biological sex, and with support for the boundary-enhancing policies of the 2016 then-presumptive Republican presidential nominee (i.e., Donald Trump). Second, essentialism was associated with support for same-gender classrooms designed to promote student learning, as well as support for services designed to benefit LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) individuals. These findings demonstrate the boundary-enhancing implications of essentialism and their social significance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1643-1658
Number of pages16
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • Donald Trump
  • boundary enhancement
  • essentialism
  • social categories
  • transgender

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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