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Child Dev. 2009 Mar-Apr;80(2):461-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01272.x.

Boys will be boys; cows will be cows: children's essentialist reasoning about gender categories and animal species.

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Department of Psychology, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA 98447-0003, USA.


Two studies (N = 456) compared the development of concepts of animal species and human gender, using a switched-at-birth reasoning task. Younger children (5- and 6-year-olds) treated animal species and human gender as equivalent; they made similar levels of category-based inferences and endorsed similar explanations for development in these 2 domains. In contrast, 10-year-olds and adults treated gender and species concepts as distinct from one another. They viewed gender-linked behavioral properties as open to environmental influence and endorsed environment-based mechanisms to explain gender development. At all ages, children demonstrated differentiated reasoning about physical and behavioral properties, although this differentiation became more stable with age. The role of psychological essentialism in guiding conceptual development is discussed.

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