Broadening the conditions for illusory correlation formation: Implications for judging minority groups

Sharon Shavitt, David M. Sanbonmatsu, Sasiwimon Smittipatana, Steven S. Posavac

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Perceivers tend to overestimate the relative degree of association between an infrequent or distinctive category of behavior and a minority group or target, an illusory correlation effect with implications for numerous social processes including stereotyping and product perception. We argue that such illusory correlations can form under a broader set of conditions than has been previously shown. Experiments 1 and 2 demonstrated that illusory correlations can emerge even when no distinctive behaviors are presented (i.e., in the absence of co-occurrences of infrequent events). Experiments 2 and 3 showed that perceivers are more likely to form strong illusory correlations when the difference in the amount of information describing majority versus minority groups is large rather than small. These findings support a process account suggesting that illusory correlations can form merely as a result of differences in the amount of information acquired about targets; minority group targets are assumed to have more moderate characteristics than majority group targets because of the relatively limited minority group evidence that is available. We discuss implications regarding stereotyping and intergroup relations as well as perceptions of consumer brands in the marketplace.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-279
Number of pages17
JournalBasic and Applied Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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