Illusory correlation in the perception of performance by self or a salient other

David M. Sanbonmatsu, Sharon Shavitt, Steven J. Sherman, David R. Roskos-Ewoldsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Past research has shown that judges overestimate the degree of relative association between a salient group target and an infrequent behavior. However, judges also overestimate the degree of relative association between a salient individual target and a frequent behavior. The present study investigated judgments when either the self or a salient individual was one of the targets. Subjects either performed a knowledge task along with three other participants or they observed the performance of four participants, one of whom was made salient. The knowledge task was presented as either important or unimportant. In addition, in one condition, all the participants succeeded on 70% of the trials. In the other condition, all the participants failed 70% of the time. Results in the salient individual target condition replicated previous results, in that the salient target was perceived as more strongly associated with the frequent behavior than were the nonsalient targets. This pattern of illusory correlation was also obtained for the self, with one exception: When the self and the other participants predominantly failed and the outcome was important, no such illusory correlation was shown. The results are interpreted in terms of motivational processes that are engaged by threats to the self. These motivational processes counteract or supplant the cognitive biases that typically lead to the illusory correlation based on the perception of relatively greater association between a salient individual target and the frequent behavior. Results are discussed in terms of their relevance to self-perception processes, social comparison, and research on attributional biases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)518-543
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume23
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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