The development of essentialist, ethnic and civic intuitions about national categories

Aidan Feeney*, Jocelyn Dautel, Kieran Phillips, Jessica Leffers, John Coley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Given current global migration patterns, understanding of children’s intuitions about nationality and national categories is an important and emerging focus for developmental psychologists. We review theoretical and empirical work on three different types of intuition: (1) that nationality is primarily determined by ancestry (an ethnic intuition); (2) that nationality is determined by commitment to national institutions (a civic intuition); and (3) that membership in a national category is determined by possession of an invisible essence which explains the similarities between members of that category. We examine assumptions about the relations which hold between all three intuitions and derive a series of questions about how these intuitions develop, how they relate to each other, and how they might be affected by children’s experience. We describe a study (N = 196) suggesting that (1) most children, regardless of experience, possess elements of both ethnic and civic intuitions, and (2) essentialist intuitions about national categories decrease with age and are not associated with ethnic intuitions. We conclude by outlining the implications of these results and a number of important questions which they raise.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Child Development and Behavior
EditorsMarjorie Rhodes
Place of PublicationCambridge MA
Publication statusPublished - 03 Jun 2020


  • essentialism
  • nationality
  • development
  • Intuition
  • social categories
  • national categories
  • language categories
  • Immigration


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