The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fallacy: Misleading Vividness

Description of Misleading Vividness

Misleading Vividness is a fallacy in which a very small number of particularly dramatic events are taken to outweigh a significant amount of statistical evidence. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

  1. Dramatic or vivid event X occurs (and is not in accord with the majority of the statistical evidence) .
  2. Therefore events of type X are likely to occur.

This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because the mere fact that an event is particularly vivid or dramatic does not make the event more likely to occur, especially in the face of significant statistical evidence.

People often accept this sort of "reasoning" because particularly vivid or dramatic cases tend to make a very strong impression on the human mind. For example, if a person survives a particularly awful plane crash, he might be inclined to believe that air travel is more dangerous than other forms of travel. After all, explosions and people dying around him will have a more significant impact on his mind than will the rather dull statistics that a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than killed in a plane crash.

It should be kept in mind that taking into account the possibility of something dramatic or vivid occuring is not always fallacious. For example, a person might decide to never go sky diving because the effects of an accident can be very, very dramatic. If he knows that, statistically, the chances of the accident are happening are very low but he considers even a small risk to be unnaceptable, then he would not be making an error in reasoning.

Examples of Misleading Vividness

  1. Bill and Jane are talking about buying a computer.

    Jane: "I've been thinking about getting a computer. I'm really tired of having to wait in the library to write my papers."
    Bill: "What sort of computer do you want to get?"
    Jane: "Well, it has to be easy to use, have a low price and have decent processing power. I've been thinking about getting a Kiwi Fruit 2200. I read in that consumer magazine that they have been found to be very reliable in six independent industry studies."
    Bill: "I wouldn't get the Kiwi Fruit. A friend of mine bought one a month ago to finish his master's thesis. He was halfway through it when smoke started pouring out of the CPU. He didn't get his thesis done on time and he lost his financial aid. Now he's working over at the Gut Boy Burger Warehouse."
    Jane: "I guess I won't go with the Kiwi!"

  2. Joe and Drew are talking about flying.

    Joe: "When I was flying back to school, the pilot came on the intercom and told us that the plane was having engine trouble. I looked out the window and I saw smoke billowing out of the engine nearest me. We had to make an emergency landing and there were fire trucks everywhere. I had to spend the next six hours sitting in the airport waiting for a flight. I was lucky I didn't die! I'm never flying again."
    Drew: "So how are you going to get home over Christmas break?"
    Joe: "I'm going to drive. That will be a lot safer than flying."
    Drew: "I don't think so. You are much more likely to get injured or killed driving than flying."
    Joe: "I don't buy that! You should have seen the smoke pouring out of that engine! I'm never getting on one of those death traps again!"

  3. Jane and Sarah are talking about running in a nearby park.

    Jane: "Did you hear about that woman who was attacked in Tuttle Park?"
    Sarah: "Yes. It was terrible."
    Jane: "Don't you run there everyday?"
    Sarah: "Yes."
    Jane: "How can you do that? I'd never be able to run there!"
    Sarah: "Well, as callous as this might sound, that attack was out of the ordinary. I've been running there for three years and this has been the only attack. Sure, I worry about being attacked, but I'm not going give up my running just because there is some slight chance I'll be attacked."
    Jane: "That is stupid! I'd stay away from that park if I was you! That woman was really beat up badly so you know it is going to happen again. If you don't stay out of that park, it will probably happen to you!"

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