Illusory correlation is a cognitive bias where people think there is a relationship between two things when in reality there is not. The most common example of illusory correlation is the gambler’s fallacy which states that if something happens more frequently than normal during a random period of time, it will happen less often in the future and vice versa.
Illusory correlations are one of many biases that can impede rational thinking and decision-making. It’s important to identify illusory correlations so you can account for them during your critical thinking process. There are many other illusory correlations including hindsight bias, availability heuristic, confirmation bias, post hoc ergo propter hoc, illusory control, and the illusion of external agency.
The first thing you should do to identify illusory correlation looks for data or evidence that suggests there isn’t a relationship between two phenomena.
For example, if someone tells you that autistic people are very creative, ask them to provide evidence for this claim beyond their own anecdotal experience.
It would also help to review the existing studies on creativity in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
People often assume illusory correlations lead to illogical reasoning but illogical reasoning can happen without illusory correlations present.
Confirmation bias only requires one’s cognitive mechanism of wanting information that supports your hypothesis so it can be rationalized as true. On the other hand, illusory correlation requires one’s cognitive mechanism to overrun facts that may disagree with your hypothesis.
Illusory correlations are actually very well documented in psychological research.
History of Illusory Correlation
Illusory correlation is a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate the relationship between two events. It was first described by psychologists Thomas Gilovich and Amos Tversky in 1993, who defined illusory correlation as “the tendency for the perceived association to be biased towards what an observer expects.” They explained illusory correlations are often due to confirmatory biases or selection biases.
People create illusory correlations across many categories, including race, gender, age, weight, height, car accidents, income levels, homeownership, education level, employment status, typhoons, temperature, crime rates, rainfall patterns, illness outbreaks. This phenomenon has important implications for the way people think about their society and others.
Example of Illusory correlation
An illusory correlation can be thought of as arising when two variables are related but one variable is not the cause of the other variable. For example, suppose you see someone wearing a green shirt on Monday and then again on Wednesday. You might think that green shirts have some effect on mood since this person was more cheerful each time they wore it – even though there’s no connection between shirt color and mood.
Why Is Illusory Correlation Important?
This is important. It shows how people perceive things. People think that they know something is true, but it’s not really true. It happens because of the way people think sometimes. When this research first came out, some people thought that stereotypes were caused by personality or that they came from underlying reality.
Studies of distinctiveness-based illusory correlation demonstrate how preconceptions are formed by everyday cognitive mechanisms that operate automatically in the mind. Expectancy-based illusory correlations, on the other hand, show how stereotypic beliefs are propagated through biased information processing when it is driven by a perceiver’s prior assumptions.