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What Is An Illusory Correlation?

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An illusory correlation is the perception of a relationship between two variables when only a minor or absolutely no relationship actually exists. For example, people sometimes assume that because two events occurred together at one point in the past, that one event must be the cause of the other. These illusory correlations can occur both in scientific investigations and in real-world situations.

Stereotypes are a good example of illusory correlations. Research has shown that people tend to assume that certain groups and traits occur together and frequently overestimate the strength of the association between the two variables. For example, let's suppose that a man holds a mistaken belief that all people from small towns are extremely kind. When the individual meets a very kind person, his immediate assumption might be that the person is from a small town, despite the fact that kindness is not related to city population.

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