Adults frequently use generic language (e.g., "boys play sports”) to communicate about social groups to children. These statements make direct claims about the mentioned group (e.g., boys), but studies with Marjorie Rhodes suggests that they also communicate information about unmentioned kinds (e.g., that girls are not good at sports). By 4.5 years of age, children infer that things said in generic statements are not true of salient contrastive groups not explictly mentioned.
Adults prefer to sample evidence from diverse sources (e.g., looking at a robin and an ostrich to see if something true of birds). Children under age 9, however, often do not consider sample diversity, treating non-diverse samples (e.g., two robins) and diverse samples as equally informative. Work with Emily Foster-Hanson and Marjorie Rhodes shows that children and adults have different standards for evaluating evidence: younger children prefer to learn from examples that best approximate what category members should be like (e.g., the fastest cheetahs), with a shift across age toward samples that cover more variation (e.g., cheetahs of varying speeds).
Generic language plays a powerful role in transmitting social stereotypes by promoting support for social essentialism (i.e., beliefs that social groups are inherently different), consequently increasing endorsement of social stereotypes and negatively impacting inter-group relations. I am currently examining the use of generic language in the media, both in the news and on social media, to (1) measure the frequency of generic use on these mediums and (2) examine the cognitive, social, and political consequences of hearing generics in these contexts.