The Essential Child

The Essential Child : Origins of Essentialism in Everyday Thought

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Numerous fields stake claims about essentialism but this is the first book to address the issues surrounding essentialism from the perspective of developmental psychology. Gelman synthesizes 15 years of empirical research on essentialism into a coherent framework, examining children's thinking and ways in which language influences thought. She argues that young children's use of concepts such as "dog," "man," or "intelligence," reflects their deep commitment to the presence of these categories' properties that extends beyond the observable information about objects. The presence of this commitment in children also means that they do not come into the world as passive recipients of data, but rather have an organizational scheme that supports categories. This volume will be of interest to developmental, cognitive, and social psychologists, as well as to scholars in cognitive science and philosophy.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 392 pages
  • 167.6 x 239.8 x 31.8mm | 689.47g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New
  • numerous tables and figures
  • 0195154061
  • 9780195154061

Table of contents

PART I: THE PHENOMENA: NOTES ON RESEARCH METHODS; PART II: MECHANISMS OF ACQUISITION; PART III: IMPLICATIONS AND SPECULATIONS
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Review quote

"The field of cognitive development can be grateful to Susan Gelman for the gift of a wonderfully integrative account of essentialist thinking. This is by far the most comprehensive account of converging findings that paint a compelling picture of previously unknown aspects of children's thinking. She writes quite well and delights us with her humor." --Human Development "The field of cognitive development can be grateful to Susan Gelman for the gift of a wonderfully integrative account of essentialist thinking. This is by far the most comprehensive account of converging findings that paint a compelling picture of previously unknown aspects of children's thinking. She writes quite well and delights us with her humor." --Human Development "Susan Gelman's The Essential Child is both deep and accessible. She does the field a great service just by pulling together her truly remarkable research program into one integrated story. In doing so, she shows how the data that support the claim that young children have essentialist commitments challenge deeply held views about the nature of young children's thinking and about the nature of human concepts in general. Anybody concerned with understanding conceptual development and anybody concerned with understanding human concepts should read this book." --Susan E. Carey, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University "This is a path-breaking book on children's conceptual development with important implications for virtually all of cognitive science." --Douglas Medin, Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University "Like all of Susan Gelman's writings, this book is lucid, comprehensive, and compelling. In it she makes a detailed and convincing case that the human mind naturally tends to construe things as possessing hidden essences, and that children display this 'essentializing bent," as she calls it, from an early age. Gelman also goes on to argue that essentialism is itself the consequence of other, more basic capacities, such as the ability to appreciate the appearance-reality distinction and the assumption that properties and events are casual. Much of the evidence supporting Gelman's claims comes from her own ingenious studies of young children's thinking, studies that have won her acclaim as one of the best developmental psychologists in the world. On all counts, then, this is a truly excellent book."--John H. Flavell, Professor of Psychology, StanfordUniversity "Gelman's book is a superb analysis of how essentialist tendencies emerge in childhood. She develops in detail an important new theoretical account of how essentialist biases develop and the implications of these developmental patterns for broader issues in cognition and cognitive development. This book is 'essential' reading for cognitive and social scientists interested in understanding this important aspect of being human."--Frank C. Keil, Professor of Psychology, Yale University "This beautifully written book unifies large and varied strands of research into a compelling, coherent picture about a fundamentally important problem. It is a real achievement, and will make a genuinely important contribution to developmental psychology."--Ellen M. Markman, Lewis M. Terman Professor of Psychology, Stanford University "The idea that people conceive of natural things as having an essence is one of the most interesting proposals in cognitive development of the past two decades. Susan Gelman is a pioneer of this area of research, and this lovely volume showcases her insight, experimental ingenuity, and theoretical depth. The Essential Child is a fascinating contribution to our understanding of human rationality."--Steven Pinker, Peter de Florez Professor of Psychology, MIT, and author of The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and The Blank Slate. "Susan Gelman's The Essential Child is both deep and accessible. She does the field a great service just by pulling together her truly remarkable research program into one integrated story. In doing so, she shows how the data that support the claim that young children have essentialist commitmentschallenge deeply held views about the nature of young children's thinking and about the nature of human concepts in general. Anybody concerned with understanding conceptual development and anybody concerned with understanding human concepts should read this book." --Susan E. Carey, Professor ofPsychology, Harvard University"This is a path-breaking book on children's conceptual development with important implications for virtually all of cognitive science." --Douglas Medin, Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University"Like all of Susan Gelman's writings, this book is lucid, comprehensive, and compelling. In it she makes a detailed and convincing case that the human mind naturally tends to construe things as possessing hidden essences, and that children display this 'essentializing bent," as she calls it, from anearly age. Gelman also goes on to argue that essentialism is itself the consequence of other, more basic capacities, such as the ability to appreciate the appearance-reality distinction and the assumption that properties and events are casual. Much of the evidence supporting Gelman's claims comesfrom her own ingenious studies of young children's thinking, studies that have won her acclaim as one of the best developmental psychologists in the world. On all counts, then, this is a truly excellent book."--John H.Flavell, Professor of Psychology, Stanford University"Gelman's book is a superb analysis of how essentialist tendencies emerge in childhood. She develops in detail an important new theoretical account of how essentialist biases develop and the implications of these developmental patterns for broader issues in cognition and cognitive development. Thisbook is 'essential' reading for cognitive and social scientists interested in understanding this important aspect of being human."--Frank C. Keil, Professor of Psychology, Yale University"This beautifully written book unifies large and varied strands of research into a compelling, coherent picture about a fundamentally important problem. It is a real achievement, and will make a genuinely important contribution to developmental psychology."--Ellen M. Markman, Lewis M. TermanProfessor of Psychology, Stanford University"The idea that people conceive of natural things as having an essence is one of the most interesting proposals in cognitive development of the past two decades. Susan Gelman is a pioneer of this area of research, and this lovely volume showcases her insight, experimental ingenuity, and theoreticaldepth. The Essential Child is a fascinating contribution to our understanding of human rationality."--Steven Pinker, Peter de Florez Professor of Psychology, MIT, and author of The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and The Blank Slate. "Susan Gelman's The Essential Child is both deep and accessible. She does the field a great service just by pulling together her truly remarkable research program into one integrated story. In doing so, she shows how the data that support the claim that young children have essentialist commitments challenge deeply held views about the nature of young children's thinking and about the nature of human concepts in general. Anybody concerned with understanding conceptual development and anybody concerned with understanding human concepts should read this book." --Susan E. Carey, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University "This is a path-breaking book on children's conceptual development with important implications for virtually all of cognitive science." --Douglas Medin, Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University "Like all of Susan Gelman's writings, this book is lucid, comprehensive, and compelling. In it she makes a detailed and convincing case that the human mind naturally tends to construe things as possessing hidden essences, and that children display this 'essentializing bent," as she calls it, from an early age. Gelman also goes on to argue that essentialism is itself the consequence of other, more basic capacities, such as the ability to appreciate the appearance-reality distinction and the assumption that properties and events are casual. Much of the evidence supporting Gelman's claims comes from her own ingenious studies of young children's thinking, studies that have won her acclaim as one of the best developmental psychologists in the world. On all counts, then, this is a truly excellent book."--John H.Flavell, Professor of Psychology, Stanford University "Gelman's book is a superb analysis of how essentialist tendencies emerge in childhood. She develops in detail an important new theoretical account of how essentialist biases develop and the implications of these developmental patterns for broader issues in cognition and cognitive development. This book is 'essential' reading for cognitive and social scientists interested in understanding this important aspect of being human."--Frank C. Keil, Professor of Psychology, Yale University "This beautifully written book unifies large and varied strands of research into a compelling, coherent picture about a fundamentally important problem. It is a real achievement, and will make a genuinely important contribution to developmental psychology."--Ellen M. Markman, Lewis M. Terman Professor of Psychology, Stanford University "The idea that people conceive of natural things as having an essence is one of the most interesting proposals in cognitive development of the past two decades. Susan Gelman is a pioneer of this area of research, and this lovely volume showcases her insight, experimental ingenuity, and theoretical depth. The Essential Child is a fascinating contribution to our understanding of human rationality."--Steven Pinker, Peter de Florez Professor of Psychology, MIT, and author of The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and The Blank Slate. "Susan Gelman's The Essential Child is both deep and accessible. She does the field a great service just by pulling together her truly remarkable research program into one integrated story. In doing so, she shows how the data that support the claim that young children have essentialist commitmentschallenge deeply held views about the nature of young children's thinking and about the nature of human concepts in general. Anybody concerned with understanding conceptual development and anybody concerned with understanding human concepts should read this book." --Susan E. Carey, Professor ofPsychology, Harvard University"This is a path-breaking book on children's conceptual development with important implications for virtually all of cognitive science." --Douglas Medin, Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University"Like all of Susan Gelman's writings, this book is lucid, comprehensive, and compelling. In it she makes a detailed and convincing case that the human mind naturally tends to construe things as possessing hidden essences, and that children display this 'essentializing bent," as she calls it, from anearly age. Gelman also goes on to argue that essentialism is itself the consequence of other, more basic capacities, such as the ability to appreciate the appearance-reality distinction and the assumption that properties and events are casual. Much of the evidence supporting Gelman's claims comesfrom her own ingenious studies of young children's thinking, studies that have won her acclaim as one of the best developmental psychologists in the world. On all counts, then, this is a truly excellent book."--John H. Flavell, Professor of Psychology, StanfordUniversity"Gelman's book is a superb analysis of how essentialist tendencies emerge in childhood. She develops in detail an important new theoretical account of how essentialist biases develop and the implications of these developmental patterns for broader issues in cognition and cognitive development. Thisbook is 'essential' reading for cognitive and social scientists interested in understanding this important aspect of being human."--Frank C. Keil, Professor of Psychology, Yale University"This beautifully written book unifies large and varied strands of research into a compelling, coherent picture about a fundamentally important problem. It is a real achievement, and will make a genuinely important contribution to developmental psychology."--Ellen M. Markman, Lewis M. TermanProfessor of Psychology, Stanford University"The idea that people conceive of natural things as having an essence is one of the most interesting proposals in cognitive development of the past two decades. Susan Gelman is a pioneer of this area of research, and this lovely volume showcases her insight, experimental ingenuity, and theoreticaldepth. The Essential Child is a fascinating contribution to our understanding of human rationality."--Steven Pinker, Peter de Florez Professor of Psychology, MIT, and author of The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and The Blank Slate.
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About Susan A. Gelman

Susan A. Gelman is the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. She has authored more than one hundred publications on language and cognitive development and has received numerous honors and awards, including a J.S. Guggenheim Fellowship, a Distinguished Scientific Award from the American Psychological Association for Early Career Contribution to Psychology, and a Boyd McCandless Young Scientist Award from Division 7 of the American Psychological Association. She also serves on the editorial board of several journals. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, the National Science Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation.
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Rating details

11 ratings
4.45 out of 5 stars
5 55% (6)
4 36% (4)
3 9% (1)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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