Children’s use of categories and mental states to predict social behavior.
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Integrating generic information about categories with knowledge of specific individuals is a critical component of successful inductive inferences. The present study tested whether children’s approach to this task systematically shifts as they develop causal understandings of the mechanisms that shape individual action. 3- and 4-year-old children (N = 65) predicted harmful behaviors in scenarios that pitted category-based expectations—that individuals will harm members of opposing social categories—against expectations about agents’ mental states—that individuals will harm people they are mad at. As children developed more advanced theories of mind, they became more likely to predict the agent’s behavior based on individual mental states instead of category memberships. Thus, as children develop causal understandings of the mechanisms that shape individual behavior, they are more likely to override generic category information to base inferences on the relevant features of specific individuals.
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