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The essence of an immigrant identity: Children's pro-social responses to others based on perceived ability and desire to change

Dunlea, James; Wolle, Redeate; Heiphetz, Larisa A.

Much work has highlighted the degree to which children and adults view human characteristics as immutable. Less work has elucidated how people may conceptualize such immutability. Using immigration as an example domain, we examined the extent to which children’s (N=112 5- to 10-year-olds) immutability concepts reflected beliefs about others lacking the ability and/or the desire to change. Children readily agreed that immigrants could—and wanted to—change certain aspects of their identities (i.e., by adopting the norms of their new country). We also investigated the social ramifications of messages focusing on different aspects of immutability. Children felt and behaved more positively toward people who had the ability and desire to change than toward those who did not. Moreover, information about desires played a greater role in shaping children’s attitudes and behaviors than did information about abilities. This work extends scholarship on psychological essentialism by highlighting the need to study sub-components of a specific pillar of essentialist thought (i.e., separating the immutability component of essentialism into perceptions regarding people's perceived desire and, separately, perceived ability to change), partially because essentialism impacts social cognition and behavior differently across sub-components.

Keywords: identity; immigration; morality; psychological essentialism; social cognitive development; social preferences


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Experimental Philosophy of Identity and the Self

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December 7, 2022