The term “illusory correlation” refers to the concept of relating two variables even when they are not related.
Illusory Correlation: Relationship Perceptions
Sometimes a perception can be formed that there is a relationship between events, actions and behaviors when, in fact, no relationship exists.
Some examples of illusory correlation include:
- A man holds the belief that people in urban environments tend to be rude. Therefore, when he meets someone who is rude he assumes that the person lives in a city, rather than a rural area.
- A woman believes that pit bulls are inherently dangerous. When she hears of a dog attack in the news, she assumes it is a pit bull that attacked.
- A child forms the belief that all teachers are nice, so when she meets a teacher she automatically trusts her.
- A football fan believes that every time he wears a specific jersey his team wins, so each time they play, he will only wear that jersey.
- A child makes a record amount of goals in a soccer game when wearing his red socks, so he continues to wear his red socks for each future game, believing that the socks are related to his play.
- A student fails an exam given on a Monday so he determines that he is unlucky and unable to pass a test if it is administered on future Mondays.
- A woman has her purse stolen by a person of a specific demographic. In the future, she hugs her close purse each time she sees a person of that demographic.
- A worker is treated poorly by a person of a specific ethnicity. The worker then chooses to never work for a person of that ethnicity again, relating the person’s behavior to his ethnicity.
- A woman lives next to college students who are loud and lewd. When she chooses a new home, she refuses to live near college students, generalizing that the behavior of her previous neighbors is indicative of all college students.
- A child is bitten by a cat in the neighborhood. The child then determines she hates cats because they all bite.
- An older person struggles to learn how to use her new cell phone. As a result, she decides not to use any technology because it is all too difficult.
- A woman is interviewing for jobs. She believes she gets a better response from potential employers when she wears a specific pair of earrings, so she wears those earrings to every interview.
- A student does well on a test when he uses his blue pencil. For all future tests he uses only his blue pencil.
- A young basketball player wins a game when he’s wearing orange shoes, so he insists on wearing orange shoes for every game believing that will help him to win.
- A girl wins money on a scratch off ticket when using one specific coin, so she scratches all of her tickets with that coin, believing it’s the cause of her win.
- A man gets into an accident when driving in the left lane so he avoids ever driving in the left lane again for fear that was the cause of the accident.
- A woman spills coffee on herself after leaving one specific coffee shop. She later refuses to go there, afraid of spilling coffee on herself again.
Illusory correlation is a logical error that can lead to mistaken conclusions. Making illusory correlations should be avoided.