Reduce The “Illusion of Causality” – Improve Critical Thinking

Posted by Kristin Arnold on February 27, 2020

I was talking with a friend the other day and she commented about Bob, a mutual acquaintance, “Whenever I talk to him, he looks the other way.  He just doesn’t like me.”

I know Bob, and he likes Sue, although he is an extreme introvert and doesn’t look anyone in the eye.

Sue made a causal leap of faith thinking that because one event happened, it caused another event to happen.

This is called the “illusion of causality” where a person believes there is a causal connection between two events that are actually unrelated.   “A” happened, then “B” happens.  So there must be a “causal relationship.” So whenever “B” happens again, “A” must be the reason.

When you carry your lucky rabbit’s foot, then you always win the game (do people carry rabbit’s feet around anymore?).

It might be true, but more than likely, we haven’t taken the time to confirm the validity of that belief.  Once Sue started looking at Bob’s interactions with others, she was able to deny that causal relationship and renew her relationship with Bob.

Sometimes, it’s impossible (or just too expensive) to confirm or deny the causal relationship.  I take vitamins because my doctor suggested vitamin C because I travel and Calcium/vitamin D for bone strength.  These are pretty much proven in the general literature.  So yes, there is a causal relationship.  No illusion there!

Recently, my dermatologist prescribed Heliocare Advanced for skin health – especially since I live in Arizona.  I’m still not sure it works and there is no way for me to prove a causal link, but I am relying on my doctor (and a few in-depth Google searches) to make my own determination.  The benefits outweigh the costs, so I’ll keep taking it.  But I am still not convinced that there is a causal relationship – and I’m good with that.  But at least I am not blindly accepting that one event causes another.

When you feel like you are making a causal connection, dig a little deeper.  Don’t just take your gut feeling as the correct causation of two events.


KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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Photo by Tachina Lee on Unsplash

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