Carrot-eaters and Creature-believers: The Effects of Lexicalization on Children's Inferences about Social Categories

  • Gelman S
  • Heyman G
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This article examines how language affects children’s inferences about novel social categories. We hypothesized that lexical- ization (using a noun label to refer to someone who possesses a cer- tain property) would influence children’s inferences about other people. Specifically, we hypothesized that when a property is lexical- ized, it is thought to be more stable over time and over contexts. One hundred fifteen children (5- and 7-year-olds) learned about a charac- teristic of a hypothetical person (e.g., “Rose eats a lot of carrots”). Half the children were told a noun label for each character (e.g., “She is a carrot-eater”), whereas half heard a verbal predicate (e.g., “She eats carrots whenever she can”). The children judged characteristics as significantly more stable over time and over contexts when the characteristics were referred to by a noun than when they were referred to by a verbal predicate. Lexicalization (in the form of a noun) provides important information to children regarding the stability of personal characteristics.

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  • Susan A. Gelman

  • Gail D. Heyman

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