A hasty generalization occurs when someone generalizes an experience from examples, not evidence. Also known as hasty induction or overextension, a hasty generalization is a form of jumping to a conclusion. It’s easy for anyone to do, especially if you’re not fully informed, but it can be harmful and misleading.
What Is a Hasty Generalization?
A hasty generalization is a type of informal fallacy. It occurs when you generalize a singular experience or small sample size, essentially stating that limited experience as a universal fact.
- I saw a basketball player sneeze; thus, all basketball players have allergies.
- That teenager lied to me, so you should never trust any teenagers.
- Her diet consisted only of burgers, and she lived to be a 102. That means burgers must be the healthiest food on the planet.
- I visited a new city, but the first person I met was really rude to me. Thus, everyone from that city is rude.
- My grandma doesn’t know how to use a phone, so every elderly person must not understand technology.
Like other informal fallacies, hasty generalization can lead to misinformation and stereotypes.
Hasty Generalization Examples With Explanations
Hasty generalization pervades all facets of life. You might notice it in everyday conversations, but it crops up on product packaging, in marketing campaigns and often in politics.
People often rely on their own experiences to make future decisions. But, using anecdotes as evidence can lead to hasty generalizations, since a personal situation does not always represent or define a broader reality.
Example: I took this medication without consulting my doctor and experienced an exceedingly rare allergic reaction. This means that no one should ever take this medication.
That medication may be helpful or even life saving for certain people. Your doctor would have likely told you about its efficacy given your personal health, along with information about potential side effects.
Taken at face value, social media can create the illusion that everyone is living amazing, eventful lives where they are completely happy and content all the time. This can make you feel bad about yourself when, in reality, most people curate their social media, making it a far cry from the complexities and ups and downs of reality.
Example: Everyone on my timeline seems to be falling in love, buying homes and taking expensive trips to faraway destinations, so I must be the most boring, unsuccessful person on the planet.
Most people, including you, treat social media as a photo album where they only record highlights from their lives. They likely have their own boring or sad days that they simply don’t feel like sharing with the world.
Small or Unknown Sample Sizes
You’ve seen these claims on commercials and products, but without revealing how many people were really included — and how they were chosen — in the sample, this advertising tactic is a hasty generalization.
Example: Four out of five dentists agree that this toothpaste will whiten your smile and straighten any crooked teeth.
The sample may have consisted of several thousand dentists, or they may have just asked literally five dentists. Without specifics, there’s no way to know.
Weight Loss Ads
Weight loss ads are the pioneers of the “I did it, and so can you!” ploy. Besides being an excellent example of ethos, weight loss ads are convincing because they portray a happy and healthy individual enjoying the fruits of their success.
Example: I took part in this weight loss program and lost 50 pounds in two weeks, so you can, too!
This statement ignores any fine print, like the sample size, the genetics of weight loss, how much exercise or dieting was involved, and the basic economic and life factors of the person who participated in the weight loss program.
Japanese Internment Camps in America
After Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States government feared further action and espionage from anyone of Japanese descent. Executive Order 9066 authorized the internment of at least 126,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens.
America’s hasty generalization — an attack from the Japanese meant that all Japanese-Americans were a danger — led to the incarceration of thousands, the loss of property and livelihood and harmful stereotypes that continue today.
How To Spot and Avoid the Hasty Generalization Fallacy
It’s important to recognize a hasty generalization when you see one or start saying one yourself. Absolute words, such as always, all the time or everyone, are fairly typical in hasty generalizations.
If you find yourself convinced by an argument, consider checking other, more reliable sources. Be aware of people who are simply speaking from personal opinion. One person’s experience shouldn’t be enough to create narratives or claims about broader populations.