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The acquisition of a negative evaluation of a fictitious minority social group in spite of the absence of any objective correlation between group membership and negative behaviours was described by Hamilton and Gifford (1976) as an instance of an illusory correlation. We studied the acquisition and attenuation through time of this correlation learning effect. In two experiments we asked for participants' judgements of two fictitious groups using an online version of a group membership belief paradigm. We tested how judgements of the two groups changed as a function of the amount of training they received. Results suggest that the perception of the illusory correlation effect is initially absent, emerges with intermediate amounts of absolute experience, but diminishes and is eliminated with increased experience. This illusory correlation effect can be considered to reflect incomplete learning rather than a bias due to information loss in judgements or distinctiveness.

Original publication




Journal article


Q J Exp Psychol (Hove)

Publication Date





24 - 40


Association Learning, Female, Humans, Illusions, Judgment, Male, Neuropsychological Tests, Social Perception, Statistics as Topic, Stereotyping, Students, Universities