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Misleading Vividness

Description: A small number of dramatic and vivid events are taken to outweigh a significant amount of statistical evidence.

Logical Form:

Dramatic or vivid event X occurs (does not jibe with the majority of the statistical evidence).

Therefore, events of type X are likely to occur.

Example #1:

In Detroit, there is a 10-year-old living on the street selling drugs to stay alive.  In Los Angeles, a 19-year-old prostitute works the streets.  America’s youth is certainly in serious trouble.

Explanation: While the stories of the 10-year-old illegal pharmacist and the 19-year-old village bicycle are certainly disturbing, they are just two specific cases out of tens of millions -- a vast majority of whom live pretty regular lives, far from being considered in any “serious trouble”.  This is a form of appeal to emotion that causes us to hold irrational beliefs about a population due to a few select cases.  The example could have featured two other youths:

In Detroit, there is a 10-year-old who plays the piano as beautifully as Beethoven.  In Los Angeles, a 19-year-old genius is getting her PhD in nuclear physics.  America’s youth is certainly something of which we can be proud.

Example #2:

It was freezing today as it was yesterday.  My plants are now dead, and my birdbath turned to solid ice...and it is only October!  This global warming thing is a load of crap.

Explanation: Whether global warming is a “load of crap” or not, concluding that, by a couple of unusually cold days, is fallacious reasoning at its finest.

Exception: If the cases featured are typical of the population in general, then no fallacy is committed.

Tip: Don’t let your pessimism or optimism cloud your judgments on reality.

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References:

Nisbett, R. E., & Ross, L. (1980). Human inference: strategies and shortcomings of social judgment. Prentice-Hall.

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