Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior

Living Edition
| Editors: Jennifer Vonk, Todd Shackelford


  • Hannes Rakoczy
  • Trix Cacchione
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-47829-6_1569-1

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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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of GöttingenGottingenGermany
  2. 2.Fachhochschule NordwestschweizBruggSwitzerland

Section editors and affiliations

  • Sarah Dunphy-Lelii
    • 1
  1. 1.Bard CollegeAnnandale-On-HudsonUSA