Susan A. Gelman

in The Essential Child

Published in print May 2003 | ISBN: 9780195154061
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199786718 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Series in Cognitive Development


Show Summary Details


This introduction concerns essentialism in everyday thought. Roughly, essentialism is the view that categories have an underlying reality or true nature that one cannot observe directly but that gives an object its identity. According to essentialism, categories (such as “boy,” “girl,” or “intelligence”) are real, in several senses: they are discovered (rather than invented), they are natural (rather than artificial), they predict other properties, and they point to natural discontinuities in the world. The question of whether children are essentialists runs directly against a powerful portrait of children's concepts as perceptually driven, concrete, and atheoretical. This chapter argues that children's concepts are not merely perceptually based, concrete, or built up from specifics, but rather reflect folk theories and a powerful capacity to look beyond the obvious. The discussion focuses on essentialism as an early, domain-specific cognitive bias; children's concepts as embedded in theories; and language as an influence on cognitive development.

Keywords: essentialism; children; child psychology; categories; cognitive bias; cognitive development; language

Chapter.  7065 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Developmental Psychology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.