PhD candidate Yian Xu has recently finished an original manuscript on essentialism and crime. Yian’s research seeks to investigate how people essentialize crime concepts and what might be the consequences of essentialism in legal decision making. She is interested in how essentialist beliefs about criminal concepts affect people’s decisions regarding criminals’ culpability and punishment. She hypothesizes that higher essentialist beliefs would be associated with higher perceived culpability as well as harsher punishment, because, as she puts it, “if you think that the crime exists naturally, as a natural concept instead of given by a cultural context, you presumably will feel more compelled to see criminal behavior as intrinsically bad or immoral.”
Yian’s interesting results indeed support her hypothesis. Essentialism is a predictor of both criminal higher culpability judgment and harsher punishment decision making. These results have a legal implication as essentialism was found to affect people’s punishment decision and therefore it can have an important impact on our courts!