The Inherence Heuristic as a Source of Essentialist Thought

Erika Salomon, Andrei Cimpian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans are essentialists: They believe hidden “essences” underlie membership in natural and social kinds. Although essentialism has well-established implications for important societal issues (e.g., discrimination), little is known about its origins. According to a recent proposal, essentialism emerges from a broader inherence heuristic—an intuitive tendency to explain patterns in terms of the inherent properties of their constituents (e.g., we have orange juice for breakfast [pattern] because citrus aromas [inherent feature] wake us up). We tested two predictions of this proposal—that reliance on the inherence heuristic predicts endorsement of essentialist beliefs, even when adjusting for potentially confounding variables (Studies 1 and 2), and that reducing reliance on the inherence heuristic produces a downstream reduction in essentialist thought (Studies 3 and 4). The results were consistent with these predictions and thus provided evidence for a new theoretical perspective on the cognitive underpinnings of psychological essentialism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1297-1315
Number of pages19
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 8 2014


  • heuristics and biases
  • inherence heuristic
  • prejudice
  • psychological essentialism
  • stereotyping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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