Speaking of Kinds: How Correcting Generic Statements can Shape Children's Concepts

Emily Foster-Hanson, Sarah Jane Leslie, Marjorie Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Generic language (e.g., “tigers have stripes”) leads children to assume that the referenced category (e.g., tigers) is inductively informative and provides a causal explanation for the behavior of individual members. In two preregistered studies with 4- to 7-year-old children (N = 497), we considered the mechanisms underlying these effects by testing how correcting generics might affect the development of these beliefs about novel social and animal kinds (Study 1) and about gender (Study 2). Correcting generics by narrowing their scope to a single individual limited beliefs that the referenced categories could explain what their members would be like while broadening the scope to a superordinate category (Study 2) uniquely limited endorsement of gender norms. Across both studies, correcting generics did not alter beliefs about feature heritability and had mixed effects on inductive inferences, suggesting that additional mechanisms (e.g., causal reasoning about shared features) contribute to the development of full-blown essentialist beliefs. These results help illuminate the mechanisms by which generics lead children to view categories as having rich inductive and causal potential; in particular, they suggest that children interpret generics as signals that speakers in their community view the referenced categories as meaningful kinds that support generalization. The findings also point the way to concrete suggestions for how adults can effectively correct problematic generics (e.g., gender stereotypes) that children may hear in daily life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13223
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Animal categories
  • Cognitive development
  • Essentialism
  • Explanation
  • Gender
  • Generic language
  • Normative judgments
  • Social categorization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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