Communication and Essentialism: Grounding the Shared Reality of a Social Category
Essentialism is an ontological belief that there exists an underlying essence to a category. This article advances and tests in three studies the hypothesis that communication about a social category, and expected or actual mutual validation, promotes essentialism about a social category. In Study 1, people who wrote communications about a social category to their ingroup audiences essentialized it more strongly than those who simply memorized about it. In Study 2, communicators whose messages about a novel social category were more elaborately discussed with a confederate showed a stronger tendency to essentialize it. In Study 3, communicators who elaborately talked about a social category with a naive conversant also essentialized the social category. A meta-analysis of the results supported the hypothesis that communication promotes essentialism. Although essentialism has been discussed primarily in perceptual and cognitive domains, the role of social processes as its antecedent deserves greater attention.