Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Haslam I 232
Illusory correlation/Psychological theories: The idea of illusory correlation was introduced into the general psychological literature by Loren and Jean Chapman in a 1967 article(1) that appeared in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. These researchers used the term to refer to the way that clinical concepts that were actually unrelated to each other could come to be seen as related because they were expected or made sense in some way.
Later, in the mid- 70s this line of thinking was extended by Hamilton and Gifford who hypothesized that negative stereotypes of minorities might also form as a result of people’s tendency to make faulty associations. (Hamilton and Gifford 1976(2)) >Stereotypes/Gifford/Hamilton, >Illusory correlation/Gifford/Hamilton.
Association/correlation: these cognitive factors relate to the metaphor of people as defective information processors. In particular, this metaphor built on an earlier suggestion by the journalist Walter Lippmann that humans’ information-processing power is limited by virtue of the fact that the social world is far too complex to make sense of in detail. >Complexity/Lippmann. Haslam I 236
For comments on the studies of Gifford and Hamilton see Richard Eiser’s Cognitive Social Psychology(3), the 3rd edition of Eliot Smith and Diane Mackie’s Social Psychology (2007)(4), Smith, 1991(5); Spears et al., 1985(6), 1986(7). >Illusory correlation/social psychology.



1. Chapman, L.J. and Chapman, J.P. (1967) ‘Genesis of popular but erroneous psychodiagnostic signs’, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 72: 193–204.
2. Hamilton, D.L. and Gifford, R.K. (1976) ‘Illusory correlation in intergroup perception: A cognitive basis of stereotypic judgments’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 12: 392–407.
3. Eiser, J.R. (1980) Cognitive Social Psychology. London: McGraw-Hill.
4. Smith, E.R. and Mackie, D. (2007) Social Psychology, 3rd edn. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.
5. Smith, E.R. (1991) ‘Illusory correlation in a simulated exemplar-based memory’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 27: 107–23.
6. Spears, R., van der Pligt, J. and Eiser, J.R. (1985) ‘Illusory correlation in the perception of group attitudes’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48: 863–75.
7. Spears, R., van der Pligt, J. and Eiser, J.R. (1986) ‘Generalizing the illusory correlation effect’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51: 1127–34.



Craig McGarty, „Stereotype Formation. Revisiting Hamilton and Gifford’s illusory correlation studies“, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Psychological Theories
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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