Monthly Archives: January 2014

Illusory Correlation

Illusory correlation can be defined as “the perception of a relationship where none exists” (Wede Psych 100 Lecture 3). In my life, illusory correlation exists primarily in superstitions that I have held onto as I’ve gotten older, though in general, it is prominent in other circumstances such as prejudice, stereotypes, and seeing order in random events when there is, in fact, no order whatsoever.

I have been superstitious since I was about nine years old. At this age, I had just begun competing in dance competitions, where everyone would discuss their “lucky shoes” or how they hadn’t sat in this spot last time they performed well, so they had to move to the same area as before or they would perform poorly. It was at this point in my life that I realized I didn’t have any objects I considered “lucky,” nor did I have any ritual to ensure a good performance. So, of course, I looked for “lucky” things as soon as I got home. It was only a few weeks later that I bought a small rubber frog from a coin machine at the movie theater. His name became “Lucky Frog,” and from that point on I made sure he was at every soccer game, every dance competition, and of course he was always at school with me whenever I had a test. At first I didn’t really think of him as an actual lucky charm, but as time went on, I depended on him more and more. About six months after I bought him, there was a math test at school. Unfortunately, the night before the test, my dog ate “Lucky Frog,” swallowing him whole. There was no time to buy a new one (not that I believed a new one would be lucky like the original) and I had to take a test the next day without him for the first time in what felt like years. As it turned out, I did fine on the test, in fact, I got an A. I then realized he was never lucky at all, but that I had just believed he was so I would feel better about whatever it was I wanted to do well in—soccer, school, or dance. This is the first experience I can recall of ever having illusory correlation present in my life. Even being so young, I realized the frog was never lucky; he was always just a frog. However, since I believed so wholeheartedly that he was lucky, I believed I was going to perform well while he was there, and so I did do well, but because I was confident in myself, not because of “Lucky Frog.” Though I realized this a long time ago, to this day I still hold onto some superstitions like wearing my “lucky” socks on exam day and eating certain things at certain times before an important event. I know they are just illusory correlations, but for some reason they still help me feel confident in myself when I need it.


Partners in Research

In my town there is a company called “Partners in Research”. “Partners in Research”, (PIR), is a business that conducts testing on consumer products. In order for companies to know how well their product is received, they have to conduct a multitude of tests with the general population. PIR obtains people to test all the different products by calling and surveying potential participants and asking various questions. If you have been accepted, you go to the building and are directed to a specific room along with other people who are involved in the test, usually taste test, in order to give reviews on the product.

The way Partners in Research conducts their business reminded me of the descriptions of the different research methods we learned in class. We learned in class many different kinds of ways to perform research including naturalistic observation, laboratory observation, case studies, and surveys. The situation that I have described would be classified as a laboratory observation. This is because all the participants had to go to a building and then to a specific room in order to complete the experiment. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with performing laboratory observations. One advantage is that there is more control for the people conducting the experiment. They would have more control because by assembling everyone in a room, they can make sure that everyone is concentrating and putting effort into what they are supposed to be doing. If this experiment was done at someone’s house the results would be a lot less reliable due to the fact that most people would not spend as much time on documenting their opinions on the products and most likely would not focus as much. Therefore, by completing the observation in a lab setting, the people in charge could control for every variable they wanted such as how long they wanted everyone to chew the gum for or how many chips they wanted everyone to eat before completing the review. Another advantage that could be utilized in the laboratory observation is that they have more specialized equipment and more things available for them to use rather that in a naturalistic observation. There were more trained people that were able to make sure that everyone was following proper protocol and to make sure that everyone was completely filling out the review sheet. However, a disadvantage to conducting a laboratory observation would be that the results gained are not always similar to the results that would be produced from a real life study. This is the case because some people who are in the study often feel like they do not want to be exceptionally harsh or exceptionally  forgiving to a product. They may be less likely to express their real feeling toward a product due to the fact that when researchers read your comments they may connect your answer to you. Also, people may skew their answers to what they think that the researchers would want to hear. However, this negatively impacts the researchers by not giving them a realistic view of how their product is perceived. Many people would not be willing to express honestly how they feel about a product just because it is not a natural environment and they may feel rushed, stressed, or nervous. Therefore, there are advantages and disadvantages to using laboratory observations. The type of research that is used is determined by what it is that is being tested.

Why Do Superstitions Exist?

Somewhere amidst the great breakthroughs of psychology, someone coined the phrase “illusory correlation”. Though you may have never heard of the term illusory correlation, they are actually quite common in the world, and most Americans like to create them. An illusory correlation is defined as “the perception of a relationship that does not exist” (lecture 3). This is how superstitions are categorized. Basically, a superstition or illusory correlation is believing that because one event happened, a prior event caused that event. However, we all are very well aware that the shirt I am wearing on super bowl Sunday will have no effect on the game whatsoever. That being said, U.S. citizens love to believe that putting on their shoes in the same order every day is good luck, or that crossing their fingers when LeBron shoots foul shots increases his percentage. We know that this is not true. Though some people may not believe in superstitions or illusory correlations, many athletes do, and I a golfer, do have certain superstitions.

When I am on the golf course, I need to have certain items with me, and they need to be in certain places. For instance, my hat clip that has a magnetic ball marker. If I do not have this hat clip, I will never play a good round of golf. I’m very aware that a clip with a ball marker on my hat has no bearing over the swings I take, but I firmly believe this to be true. Another illusory correlation I have is what are in my pockets. In my left pocket I must have only my divot repair tool and my golf ball in between holes. In my right pocket I carry tees and nothing else. I feel as though the entire world will be turned inside out if anything else are in my pockets, or heaven forbid I switch those pockets. The final illusory correlation that I really experience on the golf course is what I do with my golf glove. I absolutely, under no circumstance, can never putt while wearing a golf glove. I have the thought planted so deep in my mind that I cannot make a putt while wearing a glove that I actually believe it. Truth be told, I probably can putt just as well with a glove as I can without a glove, but thus the example of a superstition.

As it has been clearly shown, there is a clear relationship between my experiences on the golf course and illusory correlations. This is apparent through the rituals I perform on the golf course with my hat clip, tees, and golf glove. I believe that the outcome is controlled by these minute, unrelated inputs, all the while knowing that only my actual golf swing has any effect on how I play. So, why are there illusory correlations? Why are there superstitions? The answer is simply that it is human nature to create correlations even when none is apparent. Also, it gives golfers something to blame when their shots don’t get according to plan.


Superstition by Kevin Bearse

Growing up in a household that has generations of baseball players, including my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father and my brother, it was almost impossible not to follow suit. I remember back to when I was 6 years old, I was sitting in front of my dad playing with my toys and he told me today was the day I started my baseball career. I’m pretty sure I was more excited that day than I was on Christmas which seems nearly impossible. My father lived towards one goal in his life; he wanted to be drafted by the Atlanta Braves. He never did achieve that goal, but he surrounded himself with baseball his entire life and I instinctively followed suit. So to sum that all up, my life revolved around baseball for quite a while. Fast forwarding to later in my career, I was playing some summer ball and really started to slump badly. For those of you confused, a slump means when you couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn if that were how big a baseball was. Then finally, I smacked a pair of triples and a double, scored 3 runs and batted in another 6. It was one of the best games of my career. From then on, for the next week or so, I was on a tear, ripping everything that was pitched to me. Now, if you haven’t played baseball, or don’t know the secret to baseball greatness, it is all superstition. After that first game, I didn’t wash my jersey, wore the same compression shorts, and socks, and glasses, and wrist tape, and wrist band, and used the same bat. You can get the picture. In a baseball player’s mind, wearing the same clothes, using the same EXACT routine, or using the same equipment meant you would be successful. This is a classic case of illusory correlation, when someone believes there to be a relationship between two things when no such relationship exists. In my mind, it was not washing my clothes and using the same routine that allowed me to break the slump. Do you really think that the dirty socks I’m wearing has anything to do with how I perform at the dish? Probably not, but that is how our mind works. Just as is the case of illusory correlation, our mind is making connections between two very arbitrarily irrelevant things. Much of the time, we like to see things that aren’t really there. Taking this one step further, it’s also a case of correlation, not causation. That is, although my performance may have been better during the time I wore the same clothes, but there is no physical evidence, or logic for that matter, proving the socks gave me some special power to hit the ball better. Most experts will tell you that slumps are entirely in your head, a mental block if you will. But being born and bred a baseball guy, I don’t believe in explanations. I believe in the socks.

The Constant Summer Fear

Stephanie Unger

Blog Assignment #1


            In psychology, one of the theories that have been discovered many years ago was the psychoanalytic theory. This theory was discovered by a man named Sigmund Freud and he stated that it is the belief that childhood experiences greatly influence the development of later personality traits and psychological problems. The unconscious mind may cause people to act in ways when they are adults, even when they are conscious, based on awful situations that occurred in their early years of life. When I was six years old, my family took a vacation to the Jersey shore which we typically have done every summer. All of the adults were socializing in their beach chairs while the kids were both in the ocean and playing in the sand. I have always been protective of my little brother since the day he was born, but he was 4 years old then. As my family was packing up to leave the beach, we came across the realization that we were short a number on the count of children and Blaise, my little brother, was missing. The beach is so large, filled with hundreds of people, and has a gigantic ocean. Therefore, anybody can only imagine the thoughts that were racing through my head. Luckily, after searching the beach for a while, we found him a few blocks away, sitting on a lifeguard stand crying. He was playing with another little boy and when he went to leave, he lost sight of my family so he began walking alone to find us. Ever since that day, whenever my family goes to the beach, a wave of nervousness comes across me and I regularly check to make sure my brother, who is now a young teenager, and the other little kids in my family are in sight. With this being said, it is easy to tie this example in with the concept of the psychoanalytic theory. I subconsciously look around to make sure everyone is safe on the beach every single time my family goes there do to the traumatic experience I had when I was younger. That day twelve years ago changed me in a way that I have no control over because of how horrified and scared I was because my little brother was missing. I may not always think about the experience while I am on the beach, however that does not stop me from being very observant of my younger family members. I check on them now constantly which is caused by my past.

Nature, Nurture, and our Religious Choices

In Ancient Greece, philosophers were split between two different theories on behaviour.  Some, such as Socrates and Plato, followed nativism and held that the thoughts, ideas, and characteristics of individuals are inborn, ultimately a result of genetics.  Others, including Aristotle, followed empiricism and held that the human mind is a tabula rasa, or blank slate, at birth and that each person is molded by his or her individual experiences.  Today, there is still debate between these two views, albeit in a different form.  Today, the debate is that of “nature v. nurture”, whether genetics and biology or environment and experiences are more influential in determining a person’s behaviour.  Most people would agree that both are important in determining one’s personality.  It seems unlikely, however, that the two have an equally strong influence in every single person. There are certainly some people who are more influenced by their experiences than their biology, and vice versa.

The idea of people’s characteristics being inborn as opposed to that of people being blank slates at birth brings religion to my mind.  Religion itself isn’t the purpose of this post, of course, but I can’t help but wonder what determines what someone believes religiously, if anything at all.  It seems unlikely that belief systems are hardwired into our brains, as nativism would suggest.  Yet, if people know only what was impressed upon their young blank slates of minds, as empiricism suggests, everyone would just be the same religion they were brought up in. That, however, is not the case.  I, myself, was raised as a Catholic, but by the time I was twelve or so, I wanted nothing to do with religion and have been an atheist ever since.

But why did that happen? Why did I stop believing everything I was taught was right? It would seem that, in this respect, my environment and experiences didn’t influence me that much.  The same could be said of most other people who either leave their religion or change it.  At the same time, though, there are those people who believe so steadfastly in what they were taught since childhood that nothing could sway them from their faith.  The early experiences and environments of those people would seem to have had a very large influence on them.  What determines how much a person’s environment affects their personality and their beliefs?  I think a person’s genetic makeup, among many other factors, is important in determining how willing a person is to question the things they were taught as children, rather than blindly believing them.

Ultimately, although “nature and nurture” are certainly both important to each individual’s behaviour and characteristics, I feel that the two are more connected to one another than people give them credit for.  Our genes don’t determine everything about us, but they certainly may determine to what extent our experiences affect us as people.

Classical Conditioning

Terms to know:

  • Unconditioned Stimulus (UCS): A stimulus that elicits a response without conditioning
  • Unconditioned Response (UCR): Automatic response elicited by the unconditioned stimulus
  • Conditioned Stimulus (CS): A neutral stimulus that when paired with an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) elicits a similar response
  • Conditioned Response (CR): A response that is learned by pairing the originally neutral conditioned stimulus (CS) with the unconditioned stimulus (UCS)
  • White Coat Syndrome: White coat syndrome is a condition wherein the individual demonstrates elevated blood pressure in a clinical setting, and not in other settings.

Classical Conditioning is a learning process that has had major influences in the school of thought in Psychology known as behaviorism. The process was discovered by Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov. The stages of classical conditioning are seen in various day to day experiences. Pavlov first noticed the process while studying a sample of dogs. Like most discoveries, this one was an accident. Pavlov was studying the digestive patterns of dogs when he noticed something astonishing. What he discovered was that the dogs began to salivate before food was presented to them. Then, the dogs began to salivate as soon as the person feeding them would enter the room. He soon began to gain interest in this phenomenon and abandoned his digestion research in favor of his now famous Classical Conditioning study. Pavlov discovered that we make associations which cause us to generalize our response to one stimuli onto the neutral stimuli it is paired with.

Pavlov then paired a bell sound with the dog’s food. He realized that even when the food was not presented, the dogs would eventually being to salivate after hearing the bell. Since food and drooling naturally follow one another these two are called the unconditioned Stimulus (UCS) and the unconditioned response (UCR). The bell and salivation pair are however, not naturally occurring. Therefore they are the conditioned stimulus (CS) and the conditioned response (CR).

An example of this would be white coat syndrome: shot= scary, doctor=shot, doctor=scary. In fact this is the reason for most of the phobias we have. A child bit by a dog may grow up to fear all dogs. Nervousness in cars could be the result of a bad car accident in the past.

Many of our behaviors today are shaped by the pairing of certain stimuli. Have you ever noticed that certain stimuli, such as the smell of a perfume, a certain song, a specific day of the year, and results in fairly intense emotions? It’s not that the smell or the song are the cause of the emotion, but rather what that smell or song has been paired with. A significant other, the death of a loved one or even the day you met your best friend. These connections are made all the time and we hardly realize the power they hold. But in fact, we have all been classically conditioned.

When I was younger, about four or five, I tried to help my mother out in the kitchen with dreams of being a world famous chef. I tried to cut up a carrot with a knife. Of course, my little hands slipped and I cut my finger pretty badly. I had to go to the hospital and get stitches. It was so scary that to this day I get extremely anxious when I’m around knives. In my case, the knife was the conditioned stimulus and fear is the conditioned response.

If you really enjoyed reading this, I suggest checking out this blog. It offers a deeper explanation of classical conditioning as well as experiments that they conducted on their own.

Empiricism and Nature/Nurture by Katharine Russell

Empiricism is a theory thought up and proposed by the great Grecian philosopher, Aristotle. Empiricism is the perception that knowledge is gained through personal experiences and these experiences are much more valuable than rational thinking. It is, simply put, the general concept of “nurture over nature”.

I believe that a person’s development is somewhat influenced by nature but mainly by nurture; to me, the idea that a human is born already knowing (albeit subconsciously) everything they’re ever going to know, is unbelievable. I have enjoyed many life-shaping experiences in my life thus far such but one in particular took place last summer when my grandparents took me to Italy for two weeks. In this time I acquired a plethora of knowledge and it was solely through my experiences and had little to nothing to do with any inborn characteristics or thoughts of mine. I used to travel a lot as a child; we routinely made trips to England to visit my grandfather’s family, we went on family vacations to Jamaica and my family and I lived in Germany for about a year when I was eight years old. However, my trip to Italy was my first that I was going as a mature thinker. We went to Pisa, the Cinque Terre, Volterra, San Gimignano and Florence during our two week stay and I learned a multitude of knowledge about every city’s different culture, art, history and also a lot about myself as an adult. For example, we stayed in Florence for approximately three days and each day we journeyed to a different part of the old city. One day we went to the ancient apothecary (The Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy), walked around the Duomo, visited a few different churches and cathedrals, another day we wandered around the Uffizi gallery and feasted our eyes on some of the most famous artwork ever created, traveled across the Ponte Vecchio, and battled the hectic Florence street market. The last day we hiked the Boboli Gardens and learned about the reign of the Medici family in Florence. Throughout all of this, I gained so much knowledge and it was all through experience. However, the greatest personal gain was finding myself as an independent, fully formed human. I learned that I could confidently walk around the streets of Florence, or any city, and speak Italian to the natives and I wasn’t forced to pay attention to anything- I was truly and keenly interested to learn about culture and history, which sounds extremely adult.

My trip to Italy was a learning experience for various reasons. I can confidently say that had I not gone, I wouldn’t have as good of an understanding about Italian life or about myself. That’s why I believe empiricism, and the concepts of nature/nurture to be an extremely valid, relevant, and important theory in the subject of psychology.

Being Jinxed and the Illusory Correlation

Hannah Hay

Psychology 100


Being Jinxed and the Illusory Correlation

            Have you ever done something or said something that you thought ‘jinxed’ an outcome of an event? Most people probably have experienced the common phenomenon of being ‘jinxed’ which is described as “a condition or period of bad luck that appears to have been caused by a specific person or thing” (thefreedictionary 1).  Though it may appear for a sudden turn of events to have been caused by a specific person or thing, bad luck cannot be a factor that leads to the final outcome. Which is why being jinxed is just the same as an illusory correlation, a concept in psychology has been defined as the perception of a relationship where none exist.

            An example of an illusory correlation within the context of being ‘jinxed’ occurred during a Pirates baseball game at PNC park when I was with my father and sister. It was a drizzly summer day at the baseball park, and unlike every game we have been to, the Pittsburgh Pirates were ahead with a lead of 7 runs. The stadium was cheering, and everything seemed to be in the favor of the home team. With every run, we would stand up and cheer, feeling as if the Pirates had become invincible and a home run powerhouse. That’s when my father spoke too soon, and told us that we were finally going to see a winning game. My sister and I looked at my father and scrambled to shut him up, however it was too late. He had jinxed the baseball game. As soon as that very inning was over, the Pirates progress took a turn for the worse. The opposing team managed to make a comeback, scoring more and more runs while the Pirates did not score another run for the remainder of the game. By the end, the total score was 11 to 7 runs, the opposing team leaving us in the dust by 6 runs.

Though we thought what my father said jinxed the outcome of the game, in the end no matter what someone could had said would have changed the final score of the game. This jinx clearly showcases the concept of an illusory correlation because the superstition of a jinx does not have any connection to the outcome of events such as the score of the baseball game. In a populated stadium, the jinx my father said could not have been able to change the performance of professional athletes. Therefore, even if there seems to be a meaningful relation between the two events, there is none.

Works Cited

“Jinxed.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.                


Illusory Correlation by Lauren Cataldo

Illusory correlation is the perception of a relationship where none exists. In class, we learned about how things like superstitions, stereotypes, prejudice, and order in random events are all illusory correlations. As we were given examples of this topic, I became very interested, as it greatly relates to my life.

My sister and mom both claim that they are psychic, and live very superstitious lifestyles. Sometimes, they have these “psychic dreams,” which can be signs, omens, or just predictions of the future. For example, my sister’s sweet sixteen was planned to be a daytime dinner cruise in New York City. A couple days before her party, which was a surprise party that she had no idea was happening, my sister had a dream that she was taking a picture with her best friend on the back of a ship, a nighttime scene with lights gleaming over the water.  She told my mom about her dream the next morning, and my mom called me freaking out that my sister had found out about her party, but was not sure if she knew for sure because my sister’s dream described a nighttime cruise and my mom had planned a daytime one. Not even five hours after the dream, the company called my mom and told her they were only having a nighttime cruise for that specific date, and moved our reservations to the night, just like in my sister’s dream. As we pulled up to the cruise on the night of my sister’s party, which was still a surprise at this point, my sister saw the giant ship, lights gleaming on the back of the boat, and almost threw up because she was so freaked out about being right. Had she taken psychology 100 and learned about illusory correlations, she would have known that the dream was just a coincidence, and there was no relationship between her dream and her party.

My sister and mom believe their dreams are fortunes and that they had these dreams just to let them know about the future. Because I learned about illusory correlations in psychology class, I now know that they are unconsciously linking these dreams to events that are happening in the future, but that this is just a perception and not real life.