Social Categories as Markers of Intrinsic Interpersonal Obligations

Marjorie Rhodes, Lisa Chalik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social categorization is an early-developing feature of human social cognition, yet the role that social categories play in children's understanding of and predictions about human behavior has been unclear. In the studies reported here, we tested whether a foundational functional role of social categories is to mark people as intrinsically obligated to one another (e.g., obligated to protect rather than harm). In three studies, children (aged 3-9, N = 124) viewed only within-category harm as violating intrinsic obligations; in contrast, they viewed between-category harm as violating extrinsic obligations defined by explicit rules. These data indicate that children view social categories as marking patterns of intrinsic interpersonal obligations, suggesting that a key function of social categories is to support inferences about how people will relate to members of their own and other groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)999-1006
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • cognitive development
  • intuitive theories
  • social categorization
  • social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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