When Generic Language does not Promote Psychological Essentialism

AbstractGeneric language (e.g., “Women are nurturing”; “Women do not like math”) is prominent in child-directed speech, and has been shown to promote essentialist beliefs about the relevant kind, supporting stereotyping and prejudice. Here we investigate a theoretically-motivated intervention to break the link between generics and essentialist assumptions. In a study with 223 3-8-year-old children who learned about novel social groups from generic language, we demonstrate that a structural construal of generics (attributing the category-property association to stable external constraints) mitigates essentialist assumptions about social categories. We discuss practical applications for reducing stereotype endorsement, and theoretical implications regarding the meaning of generic language and the development of social kind representations.

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