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Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2014 Oct;40(10):1297-315. doi: 10.1177/0146167214541659. Epub 2014 Jul 18.

The inherence heuristic as a source of essentialist thought.

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University of Illinois, Champaign, USA
University of Illinois, Champaign, USA.


Humans are essentialists: They believe hidden "essences" underlie membership in natural and social kinds. Although essentialism has well-established implications for important societal issues (e.g., discrimination), little is known about its origins. According to a recent proposal, essentialism emerges from a broader inherence heuristic-an intuitive tendency to explain patterns in terms of the inherent properties of their constituents (e.g., we have orange juice for breakfast [pattern] because citrus aromas [inherent feature] wake us up). We tested two predictions of this proposal-that reliance on the inherence heuristic predicts endorsement of essentialist beliefs, even when adjusting for potentially confounding variables (Studies 1 and 2), and that reducing reliance on the inherence heuristic produces a downstream reduction in essentialist thought (Studies 3 and 4). The results were consistent with these predictions and thus provided evidence for a new theoretical perspective on the cognitive underpinnings of psychological essentialism.


heuristics and biases; inherence heuristic; prejudice; psychological essentialism; stereotyping

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