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Departmental Colloquium: Descriptive-to-prescriptive reasoning: An early emerging bias to maintain the status quo

Steven O. Roberts
Wednesday, June 2, 2021, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Group norms are necessary for navigating the social world, but they also constrain how we think about individuals. This talk progresses in three parts, along the way integrating research from cognitive, developmental, and social psychology, as well as the broader social sciences, to present a theoretical perspective on how the tendency to interpret descriptive norms (i.e., what is) as prescriptive (i.e., what should be) serves as an early emerging bias to maintain the status quo. First, I define descriptive-to-prescriptive reasoning and review previous research on how it maintains the status quo. Second, I review a recent programme of research on the early development of descriptive-to-prescriptive reasoning. Third, I provide suggestions for future research, particularly in the domain of redirecting descriptive-to-prescriptive reasoning for good. Overall, I propose that descriptive-to-prescriptive reasoning biases children to keep groups in their place and prevent them from changing. Implications for stereotyping and inequality are discussed.