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I Am What I Am: The Role of Essentialist Beliefs and Neurodivergent Identification on Individuals’ Self-Efficacy

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
© 2023 American Psychological Association 2023, Vol. 152, No. 11, 2995–3001

I Am What I Am: The Role of Essentialist Beliefs and Neurodivergent
Identification on Individuals’ Self-Efficacy

AUTHOR(S)

Alexa Lebrón-Cruz 1 and Ariana Orvell 2
1 Child Study Center, Yale University
2 Department of Psychology, Bryn Mawr College

ABSTRACT

Essentialism is the belief that members of particular categories (e.g., social and cultural) are united by an innate underlying essence. While such beliefs have been associated with negative outcomes such as stereotyping, discrimination, and prejudice, minority group members can sometimes use essentialist beliefs to validate their identities. Here, we focus on people who identify as “neurodivergent”—individuals whose brains differ from typical neurology (such as those with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, etc.). We examined whether endorsing essentialist beliefs about neurodivergence serves a protective function among 316 neurodivergent-identifying individuals. As expected, endorsing essentialist beliefs was related to higher self-efficacy. This was especially true of people who highly identified as neurodivergent. These results illuminate how essentialist beliefs may empower a group that is often negatively stereotyped. Public Significance Statement: The concept of “neurodivergence” refers to the belief that there are differences in people’s brains that can affect their day-to-day experiences. People who identify as neurodivergent tend to have diagnosed disorders (e.g., autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and may have shared social experiences of stigma due to their condition(s). Here, we found that believing that neurodivergent individuals are united by a shared, innate essence (i.e., holding essentialist beliefs) was associated with greater self-efficacy, especially for people who identified more strongly as neurodivergent. These results add to a growing body of research highlighting how, under certain circumstances, holding essentialist beliefs is associated with protective outcomes for members of marginalized groups.

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