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Categories Influence Predictions About Individual Consistency


  • This research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant HD-36043 to the second author. The first author was supported by funding from the Michigan Prevention Research Training Grant (National Institutes of Health Grant T32 MH63057-03). We are grateful to the parents, teachers, and children of Lakewood Elementary School, Little Folks Corner, the Ann Arbor YMCA Early Childhood Center, and Concord Preschool for participating in this research, as well as to Korie Zink, Erica Ranade, and Kristin Garrison for their assistance with data collection. We also thank three anonymous reviewers who gave helpful feedback on prior drafts and whose suggestions motivated the design of Study 4.

concerning this article should be addressed to Marjorie Rhodes, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 2422 East Hall, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1043. Electronic mail may be sent to


Predicting how people will behave in the future is a critical social-cognitive task. In four studies (N = 150, ages preschool to adult), young children (ages 4–5) used category information to guide their expectations about individual consistency. They predicted that psychological properties (preferences and fears) would remain consistent over time after hearing one example in which properties followed a category-linked distribution (e.g., children of different genders had different properties) but not when properties varied within a category (e.g., children of the same gender had different properties). The developmental course of these findings is examined. Results suggest the importance of considering how children’s emerging theories of behavior and of social groups operate together to inform their expectations about the social world.