Attributional complexity and the illusory correlation: A test of the inverted-U hypothesis

Katrina Aberizk, Leonard S. Newman, Rikki H. Sargent

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Doubly distinctive events or stimuli (those that stand out from the surround for more than one reason) are particularly memorable and can lead to the development of illusory correlations (i.e., the perception of an association between two variables that are objectively uncorrelated). Stroessner and Plaks (2001) hypothesized that social stereotypes based on illusory correlations are most likely to form as a result of moderate levels of information processing. The current study tests that hypothesis by examining the role of attributional complexity (AC), a personality variable corresponding to motivation to think deeply about human behavior. As predicted, illusory correlations were most apparent for participants with moderate AC. A second goal was to test the hypothesis that illusory correlations linking a group to undesirable behavior would be especially likely to emerge when the group consisted of people with mental illness. This hypothesis was not supported.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)601-626
Number of pages26
JournalNorth American Journal of Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Psychology


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