Essentialist Beliefs About Bodily Transplants in the United States and India
Version of Record online: 30 JAN 2013
Copyright © 2013 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 37, Issue 4, pages 668–710, May/June 2013
How to Cite
Meyer, M., Leslie, S.-J., Gelman, S. A. and Stilwell, S. M. (2013), Essentialist Beliefs About Bodily Transplants in the United States and India. Cognitive Science, 37: 668–710. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12023
- Issue online: 8 MAY 2013
- Version of Record online: 30 JAN 2013
- Manuscript Accepted: 20 JUN 2012
- Manuscript Revised: 10 MAY 2012
- Manuscript Received: 28 NOV 2011
- Causal reasoning;
- Psychological essentialism
Psychological essentialism is the belief that some internal, unseen essence or force determines the common outward appearances and behaviors of category members. We investigated whether reasoning about transplants of bodily elements showed evidence of essentialist thinking. Both Americans and Indians endorsed the possibility of transplants conferring donors' personality, behavior, and luck on recipients, consistent with essentialism. Respondents also endorsed essentialist effects even when denying that transplants would change a recipient's category membership (e.g., predicting that a recipient of a pig's heart would act more pig-like but denying that the recipient would become a pig). This finding runs counter to predictions from the strongest version of the “minimalist” position (Strevens,2000), an alternative to essentialism. Finally, studies asking about a broader range of donor-to-recipient transfers indicated that Indians essentialized more types of transfers than Americans, but neither sample essentialized monetary transfer. This suggests that results from bodily transplant conditions reflect genuine essentialism rather than broader magical thinking.