"Two-Thousand Years of Stasis": How Psychological Essentialism Impedes Evolutionary Understa

Susan A. Gelman, Marjorie Rhodes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter examines how psychological essentialism poses a set of conceptual obstacles to a full grasp of evolutionary theory for ordinary (non-expert) children and adults. Specifically, this chapter describes five essentialist assumptions that are common in everyday thought and are inconsistent with evolutionary theory, including: assumption of category stability and immutability, assumption that category boundaries are strict and impermeable, failure to understand within-category variability, by either denying its existence or treating it as 'noise', treating causes as inhering in individuals rather than resulting from population-level forces, and viewing categories as progressing toward an ideal state. Some of these obstacles impede acceptance of evolutionary theory; others impede understanding evolutionary theory. The chapter concludes with speculations about implications for science education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEvolution Challenges
Subtitle of host publicationIntegrating Research and Practice in Teaching and Learning about Evolution
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199949557
ISBN (Print)9780199730421
StatePublished - Sep 20 2012


  • Accepting evolution
  • Categories & concepts
  • Essentialism
  • Science education
  • Understanding evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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