Archive for June 9th, 2015

June 9, 2015

Illusory Correlation


Illusory [ih-loo-suh-reecorrelation [kawr-uh-ley-shuhn] is the phenomenon of perceiving a relationship between variables (typically people, events, or behaviors) even when no such relationship exists. A common example of this phenomenon would be when people form false associations between membership in a statistical minority group and rare (typically negative) behaviors as variables that are novel or salient tend to capture the attention. This is one way stereotypes form and endure, which can lead people to expect certain groups and traits to fit together, and then to overestimate the frequency with which these correlations actually occur.

The term ‘Illusory correlation’ was originally coined in 1967 by psychologists Loren Chapman and Jean Chapman to describe people’s tendencies to overestimate relationships between two groups when distinctive and unusual information is presented. The concept was used to question claims about objective knowledge in clinical psychology through the Chapmans’ refutation of many clinicians’ widely used Wheeler signs for homosexuality in Rorschach tests.

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