DOES HARVARD MAKE YOU SMARTER?: Swimmer’s Body Illusion
Professional swimmers don’t have perfect bodies because they train extensively. Rather, they are good swimmers because of their physiques. How their bodies are designed is a factor for selection and not the result of their activities. Similarly, female models advertise cosmetics and thus, many female consumers believe that these products make you beautiful. But it is not the cosmetics that make these women model-like. Quite simply, the models are born attractive and only for this reason are they candidates for cosmetics advertising. As with the swimmers’
bodies, beauty is a factor for selection and not the result. For example, Harvard has the reputation of being a top university. Many highly successful people have studied there. Does this mean that Harvard is a good school? We don’t know. Perhaps the school is terrible, and it simply recruits the brightest students around.
Whenever we confuse selection factors with results, we fall prey to the swimmer’s body illusion.
Be wary when you are encouraged to strive for certain things – be it abs of steel, immaculate looks, a higher income, a long life, a particular demeanour or happiness. You might fall prey to the swimmer’s body illusion. Before you decide to take the plunge, look in the mirror – and be honest about what you see.
See also Halo Effect (ch. 38); Outcome Bias (ch. 20); Self-Selection Bias (ch. 47)