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Abstract

Across four studies, we directly compared children’s essentialist reasoning about the stability of race and language throughout an individual’s lifespan. Monolingual English-speaking children were presented with a series of images of children who were either White or Black; each face was paired with a voice clip in either English or French. Participants were asked which of two adults each target child would grow up to be – one who was a ‘match’ to the target child in race but not language, and the other a ‘match’ in language but not race. Nine- to 10-year-old European American children chose the race-match, rather than the language-match. In contrast, 5–6-year-old European American children in both urban, racially diverse, and rural, racially homogeneous environments chose the language-match, even though this necessarily meant that the target child would transform racial categories. Although surprising in light of adult reasoning, these young children demonstrated an intuition about the relative stability of an individual’s language compared to her racial group membership. Yet, 5–6-year-old African American children, similar to the older European American children, chose the race-match, suggesting that membership in a racial minority group may highlight children’s reasoning about race as a stable category. Theoretical implications for our understanding of children’s categorization of human kinds are discussed.