Evidence for Multiple Sources of Inductive Potential: Occupations and Their Relations to Social Institutions

Cognitive Psychology 130 (2021)
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Several current theories have essences as primary drivers of inductive potential: e.g., people infer dogs share properties because they share essences. We investigated the possibility that people take occupational roles as having robust inductive potential because of a different source: their position in stable social institutions. In Studies 1–4, participants learned a novel property about a target, and then decided whether two new individuals had the property (one with the same occupation, one without). Participants used occupational roles to robustly generalize rights and obligations, functional behaviors, personality traits, and skills. In Studies 5–6, we contrasted occupational roles (via label) with race/gender (via visual face cues). Participants reliably favored occupational roles over race/gender for generalizing rights and obligations, functional behaviors, personality traits, and skills (they favored race/gender for inferring leisure behaviors and physiological properties). Occupational roles supported inferences to the same extent as animal categories (Studies 4 and 6). In Study 7, we examined why members of occupational roles share properties. Participants did not attribute the inductive potential of occupational roles to essences, they attributed it to social institutions. In combination, these seven studies demonstrate that any theory of inductive potential must pluralistically allow for both essences and social institutions to form the basis of inductive potential.



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Katherine Ritchie
University of California, Irvine

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