Psychological essentialism and the differential attribution of uniquely human emotions to ingroups and outgroups



According to the psychological essentialism perspective, people tend to explain differences between groups by attributing them different essences. Given a pervasive ethnocentrism, this tendency implies that the human essence will be restricted to the ingroup whereas outgroups will receive a lesser degree of humanity. Therefore, it is argued that people attribute more uniquely human characteristics to the ingroup than to the outgroup. The present article focuses on secondary emotions that constitute such characteristics. Study 1 showed that members of high- and low-status groups attribute more positive secondary emotions to the ingroup than to the outgroup. Study 2 verified that the differential attribution extended also to negative secondary emotions. No exemplars of emotions were provided in Study 3. Instead, participants had to estimate the means of two distributions of numbers that supposedly represented characteristics of the ingroup and of the outgroup. The results of this third experiment illustrated the reluctance to attribute secondary emotions to the outgroup. The findings are discussed from the perspective of psychological essentialism. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.