Illusory Correlation

An illusory correlation occurs when a person perceives a relationship between two variables that are not in fact correlated. In the first study to demonstrate this phenomenon, participants were presented with pairs of words from two stimulus lists. Each word from the first list was paired an equal number of times with each word from the second list. Later, when participants were asked to estimate the number of times words from each of the two lists had been paired together, they consistently overestimated the number of pairings that had occurred between (a) pairs of words that differed visually from the others (i.e., unusually long words) and (b) pairs of words that shared some semantic association (e.g., lion and tiger). Thus, although all pairs occurred equally ...

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