Eight studies (N = 2,974) were conducted to test the hypothesis that the widespread folk belief in the true self is an instance of psychological essentialism. Results supported this hypothesis. Specifically, participants’ reasoning about the true self displayed the telltale features of essentialist reasoning (immutability, discreteness, consistency, informativeness, inherence, and biological basis; Studies 1–4); participants’ endorsement of true-self beliefs correlated with individual differences in other essentialist beliefs (Study 5); and experimental manipulations of essentialist thought in domains other than the self were found to “spill over” and affect the extent to which participants endorsed true-self beliefs (Studies 6–8). These findings advance theory on the origins and functions of true-self beliefs, revealing these beliefs to be a specific instance of a broader tendency to explain phenomena in the world in terms of underlying essences.
The preprint is here.