Representativeness error

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Chapter 8 endnote 12, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

Darwin also wrote that emotional imbalance could cause frizzy hair. [...] This is a great example of the representativeness error

Darwin's wrote, “persistently rough condition of the hair in many insane patients [is attributed] in part to their minds being always somewhat disturbed.”[1] To me, this is a great example of the representativeness error, a mental shortcut first described by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the 1970s.[2] The error goes like this:

  1. Observe a characteristic, such as rough hair.
  2. Fit it to a stereotype, such as that of a "crazy person."
  3. Assume that the probability of one makes the other more likely. (Mad scientist, anyone?)

The error may also be applied to any two events that seem similar or thematically linked.


Notes on the Notes

  1. Darwin, Charles. (1872) 2005. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Stilwell, KS: Digireads.com, p. 160.
  2. Kahneman, Daniel and Amos Tversky. 1972 "Subjective Probability: A Judgment of Representativeness." Cognitive Psychology 3: 430-454.