Intuitive biological thinking in Chinese 8th graders

Yian Xu, Kennesaw State University
John D. Coley, Northeastern University


People spontaneously engage in systematic ways of thinking about biology such as human exceptionalism (the tendency of viewing human species as separate from nonhuman species), essentialism (the tendency of assuming category membership as determined by an underlying essence), and teleology (the tendency of seeing purpose as the cause). However, with the majority of past research drawn on Western samples, little is known about whether various types of intuitive biological thinking apply to non-Western contexts. To better understand the nature and cultural prevalence of intuitive biological thinking, we measured essentialist, teleological, and human exceptionalist thinking in a group of Chinese 8th graders. Results demonstrated the presence of all three types of intuitive biological thinking in Chinese middle schoolers, and comparisons with previously published data on U.S. 8th graders showed consistently less human exceptionalism and slightly higher essentialist thinking in China. As such, the current results highlight the prevalence of intuitive biological thinking in an East Asian sample while addressing the potential role of cultural inputs in shaping the way such thinking manifests.