Distinctiveness-based illusory correlations and stereotyping: A meta-analytic integration


  • Portions of these analyses were presented at the Australian Bicentennial Meeting of Social Psychologists, Leura, NSW, August 1988, and at The British Psychological Society conference, St. Andrews, Scotland, April 1989.

Department of Psychology, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA


This article reports the results of a meta-analytic integration of previous research on illusory correlation in stereotyping effects. The following patterns were observed. The basic distinctiveness-based illusory correlation effect is highly significant, and of moderate strength. Consistent with theoretical expectations, distinctiveness-based illusory correlation effects are stronger when the distinctive behaviour is negative. Effects are also stronger as a function of the number of exemplars presented in the stimulus array. This is consistent with the effects of memory load on covariation judgement demonstrated elsewhere. Finally, subjects' judgements of covariation in the distinctiveness-based illusory correlation paradigm are significantly predicted by the paired distinctive covariation judgement strategy. This indicates that subjects' judgements of covariation in the illusory correlation in stereotyping paradigm seem to reflect a responsiveness to the information being presented to them, and especially a reliance upon distinctive information. Discussion considers possible mechanisms for these effects, and suggests that future research examine the processes underlying the effects of the valence of the distinctive behaviours, the effects of the number of exemplars, and the strategies followed in making these types of covariation judgements.