What Is Psychological Essentialism?
Much of human cognition is characterized by psychological essentialism (Gelman 2003). In its broadest form, psychological essentialism is a conceptual framework that defines our naïve-metaphysical perspective on the structure of objects and categories. Its basis is the distinction between two kinds of properties: Objects of a given kind can have many accidental properties: These are properties that the object in question can but need not have, and in respect to which it can change without becoming a different kind of object. Essentialproperties (Essential properties are sometimes called “defining,” and accidental ones “characteristic.” Research in cognitive development, for example, suggests that children’s lexical semantics undergo a “characteristic-to-defining” shift in the preschool years such that children initially base word meaning on superficial features associated with prototypical instances of a given kind, and only later focus on the...
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