Why do children essentialize social groups?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The tendency to essentialize social groups is universal, and arises early in development. This tendency is associated with negative intergroup attitudes and behaviors, and has thus encouraged the search for remedies for the emergence of essentialism. In this vein, great attention has been devoted to uncovering the cognitive foundations of essentialism. In this chapter, I suggest that attention should also be turned toward the motivational foundations of essentialism. I propose that considerations of power and group identity, but especially a “need to belong,” may encourage children's essentialization of social groups. Namely, from a young age, children are keen to feel members of a group, and that their membership is secure and exclusive. Essentialism is the conceptual gadget that satisfies these feelings. And to the extent that groups are defined by what they do, this motivated essentialism also impels children to be adamant about the maintenance of unique group behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Development of Social Essentialism
EditorsMarjorie Rhodes
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages34
ISBN (Print)9780128200865
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameAdvances in Child Development and Behavior
ISSN (Print)0065-2407

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Inc.


  • Development
  • Motivation
  • Need to belong
  • Normativity
  • Social essentialism


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