illusory correlation | definition

seeing relationships between two things when in reality no such relationship exists


Spielman, R. M., Jenkins, W. J., & Lovett, M. D. (2020). Psychology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at


The moral foundations of illusory correlation

Previous research has studied the relationship between political ideology and cognitive biases, such as the tendency of conservatives to form stronger illusory correlations between negative infrequent behaviors and minority groups. We further explored these findings by studying the relation between illusory correlation and moral values…..

Implicit and Explicit Illusory Correlation as a Function of Political Ideology

Research has demonstrated that people who embrace different ideological orientations often show differences at the level of basic cognitive processes. For instance, conservatives (vs. liberals) display an automatic selective attention for negative (vs. positive) stimuli, and tend to more easily form illusory correlations between negative information and minority groups. In the present work, we further explored this latter effect by examining whether it only involves the formation of explicit attitudes or it extends to implicit attitudes. To this end, following the typical illusory correlation paradigm, participants were presented with members of two numerically different groups (majority and minority) each performing either a positive or negative behaviour…..

The Origin of Illusory Correlations

If the distributions of two binary variables are skewed, people erroneously perceive a correlation even if the variables are actually uncorrelated. Specifically, people perceive a correlation between the variables’ infrequent (vs. frequent) levels. While such systematic Illusory Correlations (ICs) can account for important phenomena, including erroneous stereotypes linking minority groups with infrequent attributes, the theoretical explanation is still a matter of debate. As proposed in the distinctiveness-based account, ICs arise due to a memory advantage for infrequent events. Alternatively, it has been proposed that ICs reflect ad hoc inferences from univariate base rates…..