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Child Dev. 2011 Mar-Apr;82(2):471-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01525.x. Epub 2011 Mar 9.

The generic/nongeneric distinction influences how children interpret new information about social others.

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Stanford University, Champaign, IL, USA.


These studies investigate how the distinction between generic sentences (e.g., "Boys are good at math") and nongeneric sentences (e.g., "Johnny is good at math") shapes children's social cognition. These sentence types are hypothesized to have different implications about the source and nature of the properties conveyed. Specifically, generics may be more likely to imply that the referred-to properties emerge naturally from an internal source, which may cause these properties to become essentialized. Four experiments (N = 269 four-year-olds and undergraduates) confirmed this hypothesis but also suggested that participants only essentialize the information provided in generic form when this construal is consistent with their prior theoretical knowledge. These studies further current understanding of language as a means of learning about others.

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