Essentialism is the idea that items have an underlying reality that explains their manifest appearance and determines their identity. I argue that essentialism is an early cognitive bias. Young children’s concepts reflect a deep commitment to essentialism, and this commitment leads children to look beyond the obvious in many converging ways: when learning words, generalizing knowledge to new category members, contemplating the role of nature versus nurture, and constructing causal explanations. I consider two puzzles that this phenomenon raises: How are essentialist beliefs transmitted? And: What is the scope of essentialist reasoning?
Susan Gelman is a Heinz Werner Collegiate Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on the topics of cognitive development, language acquisition, categorization, inductive reasoning, causal reasoning, and relationships between language and thought.
ABOUT MICHAEL CHANDLER
Michael Chandler is Professor Emeritus in UBC’s Department of Psychology. Dr. Chandler received his Bachelor of Arts in 1960 from Grinnell College, Iowa and his Ph.D. in 1966 from the University of California, Berkeley where he worked with Drs. Sheldon Korchin and Theodore Sarbin. He then went on to complete two postdoctoral fellowships; one at the Menninger Foundation in Kansas and the other at the Institut des Sciences de L’Education, Universite de Geneve, in Switzerland with Dr. Jean Piaget. Dr. Chandler is a world-renowned scholar whose accolades and contributions to the field are too numerous to mention in full. He is often recognized for revolutionizing the way scholars conceptualize and study the development of social cognition or ‘theory of mind’ as well as his pioneering research on identity development. His ongoing program of research features an exploration of the role culture plays in constructing the course of identity development, shaping young people’s emerging sense of ownership of their personal and cultural past, and their commitment to their own and their community’s future well being. These efforts, along with more than 150 published books, articles and book chapters, have earned Dr. Chandler the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Senior Research Prize, led to his being awarded the Killam Teaching Prize, and resulted in his twice being named a Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies Distinguished Scholar in Residence. His research and scholarly efforts have also resulted in his being appointed as Canada’s only Distinguished Investigator of both the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR). Dr. Chandler’s research with children at risk began more than 35 years ago with an article (co-authored with A. Sameroff) that was selected by the Society for Research in Child Development for inclusion in a book entitled Twenty Studies That Revolutionized Child Psychology. Professor Chandler’s program of research dealing with identity development and suicide in Aboriginal youth was singled out for publication as a book and as an invited Monograph of the Society for Research in Child Development (recently translated into French), and is the only program of Canadian research featured in WHO’s just released report on the social determinants of health.
Annually the Department of Psychology hosts a Colloquia Series throughout the academic year. This exciting program brings us together outside of the classroom to have conversations with the speakers we’ve invited to our campus to share their ideas. You’ll have the chance to hear from international speakers on a wide range of provocative topics.