Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Haslam I 237
Illusory correlation/Fiedler: Klaus Fiedler (1991)(1) proposed a new account that did not afford any special importance to paired or doubly distinctive information. (FiedlerVsHamilton, FiedlerVsGifford). >Illusory correlation/Smith, >Illusory correlation/Gifford/Hamilton, >Experiment/Gifford/Hamilton.
Fiedler (like Smith) explained the illusory correlation effect as a natural consequence of asking people to process skewed distributions of information. In effect, the new models were explanations of the illusory correlation effect rather than of stereotype formation. See also Berndsen et al., (1998)(2), McConnell et al., (1994)(3), Sherman et al., 2009)(4).
Fiedler’s model focused on information loss. iI is likely that much of[the] information will be lost (…).Regardless of whether the information loss is a result of perceptual or memory processes (or both), the effect of the information loss is expected to take a particular form providing that this information loss is random.
Critically, if the information loss is random then on average the same amount of information loss will tend to do more damage to the impression of the smaller group. In the standard illusory correlation paradigm the balance of information about both groups is very positive. It follows that if perceivers had the full set of information they would form positive impressions of both groups. If a proportion of that information is lost about both groups then there may still be enough information to retain a positive impression about the large group, but the positive impression of the small group may decay. ((s) A similar approach that focuses on randomness is found in economics: the Random Walk Theory.)
Haslam I 238
VsFiedler: Problem: it is difficult to judge whether these processes are likely to yield effects that are big enough and rapid enough to explain the illusory correlation effect. It is also the case that the model should predict a rapid decay in the illusory correlation effect when the small group is large. The available evidence, however, is very limited on this point.



1. Fiedler, K. (1991) ‘The tricky nature of skewed frequency tables: An information loss account of distinctiveness-based illusory correlations’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60: 24–36.
2. Berndsen, M., Spears, R., McGarty, C. and van der Pligt, J. (1998) ‘Dynamics of differentiation: Similarity as the precursor and product of stereotype formation’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74: 1451–63.
3. McConnell, A.R., Sherman, S.J. and Hamilton, D.L. (1994) ‘Illusory correlation in the perception of groups: An extension of the distinctiveness-based account’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67: 414–29.
4. Sherman, J.W., Kruschke, J.K., Sherman, S.J., Percy, E.T., Petrocelli, J.V. and Conrey, F.R. (2009) ‘Attentional processes in stereotype formation: A common model for category accentuation and illusory correlation’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96: 305–23.



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.
Fiedler, Klaus
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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