Examples of Illusory Correlation in Real Life

Smiling woman wearing hoop earrings as examples of illusory correlation

The term "illusory correlation" refers to the concept of relating two variables even when they are not related.

Illusory Correlation: Relationship Perceptions

Sometimes a perception can be formed that there is a relationship between events, actions and behaviors when, in fact, no relationship exists.

Some examples of illusory correlation include:

  • A man holds the belief that people in urban environments tend to be rude. Therefore, when he meets someone who is rude he assumes that the person lives in a city, rather than a rural area.
  • A woman believes that pit bulls are inherently dangerous. When she hears of a dog attack in the news, she assumes it is a pit bull that attacked.
  • A child forms the belief that all teachers are nice, so when she meets a teacher she automatically trusts her.
  • A football fan believes that every time he wears a specific jersey his team wins, so each time they play, he will only wear that jersey.
  • A child makes a record amount of goals in a soccer game when wearing his red socks, so he continues to wear his red socks for each future game, believing that the socks are related to his play.
  • A student fails an exam given on a Monday so he determines that he is unlucky and unable to pass a test if it is administered on future Mondays.
  • A woman has her purse stolen by a person of a specific demographic. In the future, she hugs her close purse each time she sees a person of that demographic.
  • A worker is treated poorly by a person of a specific ethnicity. The worker then chooses to never work for a person of that ethnicity again, relating the person's behavior to his ethnicity.
  • A woman lives next to college students who are loud and lewd. When she chooses a new home, she refuses to live near college students, generalizing that the behavior of her previous neighbors is indicative of all college students.
    A child is bitten by a cat in the neighborhood. The child then determines she hates cats because they all bite.
  • An older person struggles to learn how to use her new cell phone. As a result, she decides not to use any technology because it is all too difficult.
  • A woman is interviewing for jobs. She believes she gets a better response from potential employers when she wears a specific pair of earrings, so she wears those earrings to every interview.
  • A student does well on a test when he uses his blue pencil. For all future tests he uses only his blue pencil.
  • A young basketball player wins a game when he's wearing orange shoes, so he insists on wearing orange shoes for every game believing that will help him to win.
  • A girl wins money on a scratch off ticket when using one specific coin, so she scratches all of her tickets with that coin, believing it's the cause of her win.
  • A man gets into an accident when driving in the left lane so he avoids ever driving in the left lane again for fear that was the cause of the accident.
  • A woman spills coffee on herself after leaving one specific coffee shop. She later refuses to go there, afraid of spilling coffee on herself again.

Illusory correlation is a logical error that can lead to mistaken conclusions. Making illusory correlations should be avoided.