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Abstract

Much recent debate concerning the acquisition of naïve theories of biology and of race has turned on the claim that even preschoolers understand biological inheritance. At issue is what is implied by the belief that offspring will have the characteristic features of their kind. The present paper argues that such an essentialist belief in innate potential need not indicate a domain-specific understanding of the biological inheritance of human kinds (or race). In Study 1, preschoolers in a Switched-at-birth task were found to be as likely to judge an adopted girl to resemble her birth parents on the color of their shirts as on their race. In Study 2, a variant on the task, 4-year-olds were found to be more likely to judge the girl to resemble her adoptive parents, suggesting that the concept of birth origin was not central to their reasoning. Though the results are consistent with the claim that preschoolers reason about human kinds in an essentialist manner, they undermine the broader claim that such reasoning is anchored by a naïve theory of biology. The finding is of cultural as well as cognitive consequence.