The Inherence Bias in Preschoolers: How Do They Explain Performance Differences?


A recent study by Renoux et al. (2024) sheds interesting light on how preschoolers think about differences in school performance. This study, conducted among 610 French preschoolers, reveals that children tend to pointed to inherent factors (such as intelligence) rather than extrinsic factors (such as access to educational resources) as explanations for why some children perform better at school than others. Read more about what this inherence bias means and what its consequences are.

Preschoolers and their Perception of School Performance

The research reveals how preschoolers often think that personal qualities, such as being smart or diligent, are the reasons for better school performance rather than external factors such as family situations. This way of thinking can lead to unequal educational opportunities and self-perceptions among children. This puts children from less privileged families or minority groups, who often perform worse at school, at an additional disadvantage.

Research results

The preschoolers were presented with scenarios about children who did or did not contribute well to the class discussion. Their responses showed a clear preference for explanations that point to the personal characteristics of the children, in line with previous research into the inherence bias in preschoolers. Interestingly, the children also indicated that children who contributed more to the classroom discussion were rated positively on aspects such as intelligence and kindness.

Further analysis is needed to understand why girls pointed to themselves more often than boys when they were successful. The research also showed that social class had no influence on how children felt about their own contributions to the classroom discussion. This is contrary to findings from previous research. This suggests that children may compare themselves more with peers from similar social classes.


This research confirms that preschoolers tend to attribute differences in school performance mainly to personal characteristics. By viewing differences in school performance as inherent, these differences are more likely to be accepted and seen as legitimate and unchangeable, even when they are not. This can reinforce inequalities in education, especially those based on social class that emerge early.

It is important to be aware of these early perceptions and the way they can shape children's views on education and their own capabilities. By paying attention to how we talk about academic performance and success, we can work towards a more inclusive and equal educational environment for all children.

The findings of this study touch on the core concepts of mindset theory and the fundamental attribution error.

  • Mindset theory, which states that individuals can have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset, is relevant because it emphasizes the importance of teaching children that effort and strategies, not just inherent intelligence, are important for success.
  • This research illustrates an early form of the fundamental attribution error, in which children tend to attribute success or failure to personal qualities rather than external circumstances, which can help reinforce fixed beliefs about their abilities. By addressing these early beliefs, we can lay the foundation for a more growth-oriented mindset in children, which is important for promoting equity in educational opportunities.