Illusory Correlation: How to Spot This Common Mental Error - Deepstash
Illusory Correlation: How to Spot This Common Mental Error

Illusory Correlation: How to Spot This Common Mental Error

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Illusory correlation

Illusory correlation

An illusory correlation happens when we mistakenly over-emphasize one outcome and ignore the others.

Example: you visit a big city, you have 2 or 3 negative experiences and in the end, you conclude that people living in big cities are rude. But you are forgetting all the other perfectly normal and nice encounters you had with the people that live there because they were not notable.


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Our selective memory

Our selective memory

We tend to overestimate the importance of events we can easily recall and underestimate the importance of events we have trouble recalling. 

The easier it is to remember, the more likely we are to create a strong relationship between two things that are weakly related or not related at all.


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Examples of illusory correlations

  • We know about Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg dropping out of college to start a billion-dollar business and we over-value that story in our heads. Meanwhile, we never really hear about all of the college dropouts that fail to start a successful company.
  • We hear about a person from a particular ethnic or racial background getting arrested and we assume all people with that background are more likely to be involved in crime. We don't take into consideration the 99 percent of people who don't get arrested because it is a non-event.


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