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Illusory Correlation

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Illusory Correlation
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Illusory Correlation

 

Illusory correlation is a psychological term that refers to the tendency to make an unproven connection between two or more unrelated events, people, behaviors, or variables because they occur simultaneously. With illusory correlation, there is no evidence that the two variables are connected, but individuals have drawn a conclusion because of preconceived biases. 

 

When illusory correlation is in place, it can have a negative impact on an organization's diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) progress. Illusory correlations can lead a hiring manager to make connections that invoke other biases, including these:

 

  • Gender bias: If an employee has a negative interaction with a female supervisor, they may associate this experience with other leaders who are women. 

  • Racial bias: If a manager has an employee of one race who is frequently tardy, the manager may assume that all people of that race have similar shortcomings. 

  • Religious bias: If a candidate wears a religious emblem on a necklace in an interview, the hiring manager may assume that the candidate will be conservative. 

  • Political bias: If a candidate worked for a politically liberal or conservative company, the interviewer might assume that the candidate shares their former employer's political views. 

  • Age bias: If a manager's parents struggle with technology, they may assume that all older people experience the same challenges. 

 

Example: 

 

Illusory correlation is at play when interviewers ask unusual interview questions such as, "What type of tree would you be if you could choose?" While many hiring managers believe that the answers to these types of questions can be revealing, no evidence exists that prove the responses are a predictor of job performance. 

 

In this scenario, the only correlation that exists is how the candidates' responses make the hiring managers feel, which does not add value to the process of determining a candidate's potential job performance. 

 

Related Terms

Clustering Illusion

refers to the tendency to erroneously perceive that random events that occur in "streaks" or "clusters" are not actually random. Clustering illusion occurs because of selective thinking based on a false assumption about statistical odds.

Gambler's Fallacy

refers to the fallacy of the maturity of chances, which is the false belief that if something frequently occurred in the past, it is less likely to occur in the future. In fact, such events are statistically independent. Commonly cited examples are a coin toss or the roll of the dice, which are impossible to predict using past data.

Confirmation Bias

refers to a person’s tendency to consciously or subconsciously seek information that confirms their opinions or views while disregarding input that challenges their perception.

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