The famous author, Nassim Taleb resolved to do something about the stubborn extra pounds he’d been carrying; he contemplated taking up various sports.
However, joggers seemed scrawny and unhappy, and bodybuilders looked broad and stupid, and tennis didn’t appeal to him.
Swimmers, though, appealed to him with their well-built, streamlined bodies. He decided to sign up at his local swimming pool and to train hard twice a week.
A short while later, he realized that he had succumbed to an 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 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. Whenever we confuse selection factors with results, we fall prey to what Taleb calls the swimmer’s body illusion.
Without this illusion, half of the advertising campaigns would not work.
Similarly, 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.
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 demeanor, or happiness, by adopting a certain method or way of achieving the above.
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.
Don’t fall prey to the swimmer’s body illusion, which is a cognitive bias that confuses traits with results