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A longstanding empirical question is how children classify people into meaningful social categories. Some theorists argue that children rely largely on noun labels applied to groups, as they generally serve to promote categorizations (Davidson & Gelman 1990; Heyman & Gelman 2000). Others argue that children preferentially attend to visual cues, and form categories based on how similar members look to each other (Sloutsky & Fischer, 2004). Many studies have utilized a category-based induction task, wherein two exemplar characters are introduced and children are taught novelty properties about each, then a test character, which more strongly resembles one exemplar, but shares a label with the other, is introduced and children are asked to infer which property the test character will have. When these cues are pit against each other in this way, children either preferentially use the label information, or use no clear strategy (Baron, Dunham, Banaji & Carey, 2014; Gelman & Markman, 1987). Diesendruck and Weiss (2014) hypothesized the level of essentialism of the categories may modify how children weigh these cues. Essentialism is the notion that a category represents an objective, (rather than socially constructed) difference, based in deep, internal features. They utilized real-world social categories that varied in essentialism, and found that essentialism did indeed affect how 5-year-old children used label and visual information. My study was a replication and extension of this study; I experimentally manipulated the level of essentialism using novel social groups. My results indicate that 4-6-year-old children (N = 39) were affected by the level of essentialism, replicating the results of Diesendruck and Weiss (2014). Children attended to visual cues more strongly when group categories were essentialized than when they were not essentialized.
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Wippick, Helena DeByrne, "If It Looks Like a Dax, But I Call It a Wug, What Is It? Examining the Role of Essentialism in Children’s Social Categorizations" (2016). Senior Projects Spring 2016. 401.