The Development of Social Essentialism

The Development of Social Essentialism

1st Edition - June 18, 2020
  • Editor: Marjorie Rhodes
  • eBook ISBN: 9780128200872
  • Hardcover ISBN: 9780128200865

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Expecting a gentle baby tiger to inevitably grow up to be ferocious, a young girl growing up in a household of boys to prefer princesses to toy trucks, or that liberals and conservatives are fundamentally different kinds of people, all reflect a conceptual commitment to psychological essentialism. Psychological essentialism is a pervasive conceptual bias to think that some everyday categories reflect the real, underlying, natural structure of the world. Whereas essentialist thought can sometimes be useful, it is often problematic, particularly when people rely on essentialist thinking to understand groups of people, including those based on gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. This Volume will bring together diverse theoretical and methodological perspectives on how essentialist thinking about the social world develops in childhood and on the implications of these beliefs for children’s social behavior and intergroup relations more generally.

Key Features

  • This volume draws on diverse theoretical perspectives from psychology, philosophy, and linguistics, and empirical work from experiments with children and cross-cultural studies to provide a comprehensive view of how social essentialism develops.
  • This volume addresses the link between cognition (essentialist beliefs) and social behavior, with implications for prejudice, morality, the justice system, and inter-group relations.
  • By drawing on a diverse evidence base, this volume addresses how beliefs emerge from the interplay among children’s conceptual biases and their social experiences.


Scholars and students from developmental, cognitive, and social psychology; philosophy; linguistics; and anthropology

Table of Contents

  • 1. What is social essentialism and how does it develop?
    Marjorie Rhodes and Kelsey Moty
    2. Why do children essentialize social groups?
    Gil Diesendruck
    3. Contextualizing the development of social essentialism
    Kristin Pauker, Christine Tai and Shahana Ansari
    4. The development of essentialist, ethnic, and civic intuitions about national categories
    Aidan Feeney, Jocelyn Dautel, Kieran Phillips, Jessica Leffers and John D. Coley
    5. Kindhood and essentialism: Evidence from language
    Katherine Ritchie and Joshua Knobe
    6. The development and consequences of moral essentialism 
    Larisa Heiphetz
    7. Does essentialism lead to racial prejudice?: It’s not so black and white
    Tara M. Mandalaywala

Product details

  • No. of pages: 260
  • Language: English
  • Copyright: © Academic Press 2020
  • Published: June 18, 2020
  • Imprint: Academic Press
  • eBook ISBN: 9780128200872
  • Hardcover ISBN: 9780128200865

About the Serial Volume Editor

Marjorie Rhodes

Marjorie Rhodes
Marjorie Rhodes is an Associate Professor of Psychology at New York University. She received her Ph.D. in 2009 from the University of Michigan. Dr. Rhodes’ research examines the processes underlying conceptual development and the development of social cognition. She has conducted groundbreaking research on how essentialist beliefs develop and their implications for social behavior and intergroup relations. Dr. Rhodes research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the James S. McDonnell Foundation, the Templeton Foundation, and Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab, and published in leading journals, including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Psychological Science, Child Development, Developmental Psychology, and Cognitive Psychology. She is the recipient of the 2017 Boyd McCandless Award for early career contributions to developmental psychology from the American Psychological Association and the 2017 Steve Reznick Early Career Award from the Cognitive Development Society. She directs research labs in the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, the American Museum of Natural History, and online at:

Affiliations and Expertise

New York University, USA