Illusory correlation

Illusory correlation is a tendency in human psychology to see association between two different variables such as events, ideas or actions when they are not associated in reality. When we see association between things, which are not really associated, the decisions we derive based on such things are not perfectly accurate.

Think through the following hypothetical. You are a passionate cricket fan. You watch every cricket match of your favorite team on live TV. You have this habit to wear one jersey with the team’s name printed on it while watching their match. The reason why you wear that jersey is because you consider it to be the ‘lucky jersey.’ How did it become the lucky jersey? You have noticed that your team wins the match every time you wear it. And also most importantly, you have noticed that every time you had worn a different jersey, the team lost. As a result of both the events, your superstition has finally solidified. Now you are certain that there is some sort of an association that you wear that jersey watching the match and your favorite team winning. Now, this is an ideal example of the ‘Illusory correlation’ in work. The two variables are not related whatsoever, but you believe it to be so because you fail to come up with a logical reason for the connection between the two variables otherwise.

According to the research done in the subject, it was concluded that illusory correlation is mostly present when people are not presently involved in events. In other words, we tend to see false correlation in the areas where we lack knowledge or personal experience.

Why should we be aware of this cognitive bias?

As a result of illusory correlation, we tend to make misguided decisions. And of course, some of such decisions can be very risky. Illusory correlation must be addressed carefully by every digital marketer because this tendency can lead them away from opportunities and encourage them to make false assumptions. Unlike many other cognitive biases in human psychology, this bias can’t be used directly to influence the decisions of the consumers, but being aware of it can pay you back with unbiased and clean decisions that can act positively towards Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).

How to avoid illusory correlation backfires on your digital marketing effort?

Focus on logical relationships

This is absolutely vital to be stressed upon in the phase of researching which is the initial stage of your digital marketing effort. How exactly can you decide on the questions to be included in a survey? Should it be based on what you think is related to customer concerns or based on your goals of the marketing effort? If you think logically, you will pick the second option. If you’re a victim of the illusory correlation, then you would choose the first option by believing in some unrealistic relationship between the questions you formed and consumer behavior, which will negatively affect your attempt of Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).

Study consumer behavior well before jumping into conclusions

Illusory correlation is about us seeing relationships between things which are actually not related. Fine tuning your online presence should be done according to the conclusions derived based on your performance. One parameter to gauge your performance is conversions. The direct bearing on conversions is the consumer behavior. So what happens, if you come up with conclusions by mapping consumer behavior with something non-related? Then it will be a false conclusion which leads you towards a misguided decision. Wrong decisions means, poor conversions! To avoid this, be more knowledgeable in the context by trying to walk in the shoes of customers to see what really is in association to shape up their behavior.

Wrap up

The major reasons why illusory correlation takes place is because we are not being knowledgeable enough in a context or the fact that we don’t possess enough personal experience related to that particular context. Therefore, by obtaining sufficient knowledge and experience in some contexts, we can stop illusory correlation from messing up our decisions. Decisions derived with this bias in action are often tend to be very unsuccessful as they are misguided. As a marketer, you can be safe from this tendency of human psychology messing up your decisions by focusing on logical relationships between things that you try to correlate. Furthermore, before coming into conclusions based on consumer behavior, try to walk in their shoes rather than trying to connect the dots blindly. If you do so, you can drive Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) towards success!

A new cognitive bias every week!

Join our weekly mailing list to continue learning about CRO and psychology.


The references contain experiments and studies that prove this bias is there.

1. Illusory correlation in observational report
2. Illusory correlation as an obstacle to the use of valid psychodiagnostic signs


Don't believe us? This is where we've found our data.

Only available with an account Register for free, no credit card required
  • Brain iconDirect access to 100+ cognitive biases
  • Brain iconLearn how to apply biases
  • Brain iconAccess to a great community
Create Your Account

Do you think you know enough about CRO?

Join our monthly mailing to continue learning more and more about CRO and psychology.