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Friday, November 19, 2021

Biological Essentialism Correlates with (But Doesn’t Cause?) Intergroup Bias

Bailey, A., & Knobe, J. 
(2021, September 17).


People with biological essentialist beliefs about social groups also tend to endorse biased beliefs about individuals in those groups, including stereotypes, prejudices, and intensified emphasis on the group. These correlations could be due to biological essentialism causing bias, and some experimental studies support this causal direction. Given this prior work, we expected to find that biological essentialism would lead to increased bias compared to a control condition and set out to extend this prior work in a new direction (regarding “value-based” essentialism). But although the manipulation affected essentialist beliefs and essentialist beliefs were correlated with stereotyping (Studies 1, 2a, and 2b), prejudice (Studies 2a), and group emphasis (Study 3), there was no evidence that biological essentialism caused these outcomes. Given these findings, our initial research question became moot, and the present work focuses on reexamining the relationship between essentialism and bias. We discuss possible moderators, reverse causation, and third variables.

General Discussion

The present studies examined the relationship between biological essentialism and intergroup bias. As in prior work, we found that essentialist beliefs were correlated positively with stereotyping, including negative stereotyping, as well as group boundary intensification.  This positive relationship was found for essentialist thinking more generally (Studies 1, 2a, 2b, and 3) as well as specific beliefs in a biological essence (Studies 1, 2a, and 3). (New to this research, we also found similar positive correlations with beliefs in a value-based essence.) The internal meta-analysis for stereotyping confirmed a small but consistent positive relationship. Findings for prejudice were more mixed across studies consistent with more mixed findings in the prior literature even for correlational effects, but the internal meta-analysis indicated a small relationship between greater biological essentialism and less negative feelings toward the group(as in, e.g., Haslam & Levy, 2006, but see, Chen & Ratliff, 2018). 

Before conducting this research and based on the previous literature, we assumed that these correlational relationships would be due to essentialism causing intergroup bias. But although our experimental manipulations worked as designed to shift essentialist beliefs, there was no evidence that biological essentialism caused stereotyping, prejudice, or group boundary intensification.  The present studies thus suggest that a straightforward causal effect of essentialism on intergroup bias may be weaker or more complex than often described.