Thinking in categories or along a continuum: consequences for children's social judgments

Child Dev. 2012 Jul-Aug;83(4):1145-63. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01774.x. Epub 2012 Apr 27.


Can young children, forming expectations about the social world, capture differences among people without falling into the pitfalls of categorization? Categorization often leads to exaggerating differences between groups and minimizing differences within groups, resulting in stereotyping. Six studies with 4-year-old children (N = 214) characterized schematic faces or photographs as falling along a continuum (really mean to really nice) or divided into categories (mean vs. nice). Using materials that children naturally group into categories (Study 3), the continuum framing prevented the signature pattern of categorization for similarity judgments (Study 1), inferences about behavior and deservingness (Studies 2 and 5), personal liking and play preferences (Study 4), and stable and internal attributions for behavior (Study 6). When children recognize people as members of continua, they may avoid stereotypes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • Child, Preschool
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychological Tests
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Social Perception*