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This salience increases the cognitive availability of the infrequent events, which, when paired together, are judged to co-occur more often than they actually do. According to Hamilton and Gifford, this increased availability of certain information is the mechanism responsible for illusory correlation. The cognitive bias proposed by Chapman and Hamilton and Gifford might be expected to be present at any age, and therefore to show little if any developmental change. Thus, based on the lack of expected developmental changes in perception of frequency and availability of distinctive information, few developmental changes in illusory correlation might be expected.
Pryor (1986) and Schaller and Maass (1989) demonstrated that on-line impression formation could ameliorate illusory correlation effects when the targets were groups. Participants were instructed to try to form a general impression of the two groups as they read the behavior statements describing each group member. They found that these online judgments did not lead to any illusory correlation effects. Thus, the illusory correlation effect in which the minority group’s involvement in infrequent behaviors is overestimated appears to be due to memory-based processing.
Even infants have been shown to be able to discriminate numerosities (Antell & Keating, 1983; Starkey & Cooper, 1980). Thus, the encoding of information about the frequency of occurrence for behaviors on illusory correlation tasks might be expected not to change with age. Interestingly, despite people’s remarkable and apparently automatic capacity to encode frequency information, adults consistently overestimate the co-occurrence of behaviors in a particular group on illusory correlation tasks.