Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Over the last several decades, essentialism, implicit personality theories, and attribution have emerged as three prominent but distinct theories and areas of inquiry in social psychology. While these three bodies of work have unique differences at the lower levels of the specific questions that they investigate, the purpose of this dissertation is to assess them at a broader level and illustrate the similarities that underlie them. I argue that essentialism, entity implicit theories, and attributions are all the result of the same basic process – an assumption that the world is stable and consistent, used in order to make predictions about future events – applied to different targets. Despite the extensive literatures illustrating the negative consequences of these phenomena, there may be a more neutral, basic belief that underlies them and is not inherently problematic. In Study 1, this construct—the Belief in Consistency—was measured with a novel scale. In Study 2, the Belief in Consistency was found to relate to essentialist perceptions of groups, entity theories of attributes, and somewhat surprisingly, a reduction in the fundamental attribution error (weaker person attributions and stronger situation attributions for observed behavior). Furthermore, these phenomena (essentialism, entity theories, and a smaller person-situation attribution difference) were found to correlate with one another. Studies 3a and 3b aimed to find positive as well as negative consequences of two phenomena related to the belief in consistency. In Study 3a, entity theories were related to stronger predictions that someone who had succeeded in the past would continue to succeed in the future, as well as predictions that someone who had previously failed would continue to fail. In Study 3b, essentialism was found to relate to greater importance ascribed to the concerns of social groups and support for having those concerns heard by the public. These findings suggest that efforts to minimize the negative outcomes of essentialism and entity theories should take a more nuanced approach by acknowledging the utility of the belief that underlies them.
McPherson, Erin, "Belief in Consistency: the Underlying Essence Linking Essentialism, Implicit Personality Theories, and Attribution" (2018). Psychology and Neuroscience Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 138.