Illusory correlation is a psychology term that refers to the perceived relationship between two variables when there is only a very minor or nonexistent relationship. Illusory correlations can occur in scientific research or real-world situations.
Stereotypes are common examples of illusory correlation. People tend to assume that certain groups and traits occur together frequently. Stereotypes come about when people overestimate the strength of association between the two variables. When two variables are mistakenly correlated, individuals can often find ways to prove the correlation or believe the correlation without proof. Illusory correlations are more likely to happen when individuals correlate two variables that stand out in distinctive ways. The opposite of an illusory correlation is an invisible correlation, in which accurate correlations are missed.