Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Kelly Madole (Director), Dr. Andrew Mienaltowski, Dr. Carrie Pritchard

Degree Program

Department of Psychology

Degree Type

Specialist in Education


Research as to how humans group natural kinds, such as animals, is essential to understanding categorization processes. However, it lacks conventional application and generalization to everyday life. Humans are social beings that encounter a wide array of individuals on a daily basis. In these situations, we are required to consider various properties that make up these people. As Keller (2005) suggests, the way we categorize is shaped by our theories about the world. Therefore, when we determine the rationale behind people’s social categorization processes, we are better able to understand people’s perceptions of their social environment. Moreover, when we conduct scientific research on how people categorize race, we gain substantial information about their perceptions and understanding of race. Thus, the goal of the present study was to determine how and to what extent people categorize race and if they use the principles of psychological essentialism to do so.

In order to determine if people tend to essentialize race in a similar manner as other natural kinds, the third study of the Hampton, Estes, Simmons (2007) research was replicated. In Study 1 and Study 2, undergraduate participants were obtained from Western Kentucky University’s psychology study board. In Study 1, participants were presented with transformation stories in which an animal or person came to look and act like another animal or person as a result of either mutation or maturation. Approximately one-half of the participants received scenarios that included information about the exemplar’s offspring. Approximately one-half received scenarios that excluded this information. Additional transformation stories that described changes to artifacts and the body (i.e. weight and hair length) were added as filler items. Participants rated the artifact/animal/person’s typicality, category membership, and their level of confidence in their ratings. In addition, they provided justifications for their responses. In Study 2, transformations were described as being the result of unintended or intended changes. In Study 2, one-half of the scenarios included a statement that the animal or human’s offspring resembled the initial state, I. One-half of the scenarios included a statement that the animal or human’s offspring resembled the final state, F. Participants rated the artifact/animal/person’s typicality and category membership. They were also asked to provide justifications for their responses.

This study provides further support for the belief of race as a natural kind given that subjects were more likely to essentialize race than animals. The study also suggests that people view race differently than other factors related to appearance (i.e. hair length and weight). In both studies, the majority of subjects were willing to state that a person changed if their hair or weight changed; however, they were unwilling to indicate a person could change their race. Furthermore, the justification data obtained in the study was one of the first studies to differentiate the reasoning used by those who did and did not essentialize animals and race.


Cognition and Perception | Personality and Social Contexts