The Unintended Consequences of the Things We Say: What Generic Statements Communicate to Children About Unmentioned Categories

Kelsey Moty, Marjorie Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Adults frequently use generic language (e.g., “Boys play sports”) to communicate information about social groups to children. Whereas previous research speaks to how children often interpret information about the groups described by generic statements, less is known about what generic claims may implicitly communicate about unmentioned groups (e.g., the possibility that “Boys play sports” implies that girls do not). Study 1 (287 four- to six-year-olds, 56 adults) and Study 2 (84 four- to six-year-olds) found that children as young as 4.5 years draw inferences about unmentioned categories from generic claims (but not matched specific statements)—and that the tendency to make these inferences strengthens with age. Study 3 (181 four- to seven-year-olds, 65 adults) provides evidence that pragmatic reasoning serves as a mechanism underlying these inferences. We conclude by discussing the role that generic language may play in inadvertently communicating social stereotypes to young children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-203
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological Science
Volume32
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Keywords

  • conceptual development
  • generic statements
  • open data
  • open materials
  • pragmatics
  • preregistered
  • social groups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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