How Children’s Media and Teachers Communicate Exclusive and Essentialist Views of Science and Scientists

Michelle M. Wang, Amanda Cardarelli, Sarah Jane Leslie, Marjorie Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Language that uses noun labels and generic descriptions to discuss people who do science (e.g., “Let’s be scientists! Scientists discover new things”) signals to children that “scientists” is a distinctive category. This identity-focused language promotes essentialist beliefs and leads to disengagement from science among young children in experimental contexts. The extent to which these cues shape the development of children’s beliefs and behaviors in daily life, however, depends on (a) the availability of identity-focused language in children’s environments and (b) the power of these cues to shape beliefs over time, even in the noisier, more variable contexts in which children are exposed to them. Documenting the availability of this language, linguistic coding of children’s media (Study 1) and prekindergarten teachers’ language from one science lesson (Study 2; n = 103; 98 female, one male, four unknown; 66% White, 8% African American, 6% Asian/Asian American, 3% mixed/biracial; 21% of the sample, of any race, identified as Hispanic/Latinx) confirmed that identity-focused language was the most common form of science language in these two samples. Further, children (Study 3; n = 83; Mage = 4.36 years; 43 female, 40 male; 64% White, 12% Asian/Asian American, 24% mixed/biracial; 36% of the sample, of any race, identified as Hispanic/Latinx) who were exposed to lower proportions of identity-focused language from their teachers developed increasingly inclusive science beliefs and greater science engagement over time. These findings suggest that linguistic input is an important mechanism through which exclusive beliefs about science are conveyed to children in daily life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1455-1471
Number of pages17
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Volume58
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies

Keywords

  • Cognitive development
  • Generic language
  • Longitudinal research
  • Noun labels
  • Science engagement

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