When most children hear genetic language to describe a group of individuals, it leads them to believe a host of other stereotypes that may fall into the category. Researchers from New York University and Princeton University theorize generic language can lead to stereotypes and prejudice.
The study focuses primarily on what researchers called social essentialism. Social essentialism is the belief that certain social categories such as race or gender, have distinct traits or characteristics. For example, social essentialism can spread the belief that "all girls are bad at math" or a certain racial group acts one way.
Researchers tested the theory of generic language plays a powerful role in shaping the development of social essentialism by fostering children's beliefs about social categories that they otherwise would not view in that particular manner. For researchers to comprehend how social essentialism is conveyed, they studied whether or not holding beliefs regarding a social category leads to parents producing more generic language when describing the category to their children.
The study's lead author, Marjorie Rhodes, an assistant professor in NYU's Department of Psychology said, "Taken together, these results showed that generic language is a mechanism by which social essentialist beliefs, as well as tendencies towards stereotyping and prejudice, can be transmitted from parents to children."
Rhodes study revealed generic language creates essentialist thoughts. It was observed when four-year-olds and adults are exposed to generic language regarding race, ethnicity, age and sex are likely to develop essentialist beliefs about social categories.
However, children's cognitive biases lead them to assume many of the social categories reflect significant differences. Additionally, generic language can signal to them which categories they should apply their beliefs. Overall essentialist belief was observed to have harmful consequences leading to social stereotyping and influencing prejudice.
These findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.