The “swimmer’s body illusion” occurs when we confuse selection factors with results. People think they can get a swimmer’s body just by training hard. However, professional swimmers don’t have their kind of body because they train hard; rather, they are good swimmers because they have that kind of body. How their bodies are designed is a factor for selection and not the result of their activities.
Advertisement campaigns use this trick to lure us into buying their brands. First, a model who is already attractive and fair is the chosen. Then, she is darkened and made unattractive with makeup. For the sole purpose of the campaign, she is shown using the magic cream marketed by the brand and viola! the model is now fair AND lovely. Without this illusion, half of advertising campaigns would not work
Another good example is top-performing universities: Are they actually the best schools, or do they choose the best students, who do well regardless of the school’s influence? 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.
Summing-up: Be wary when you are encouraged to strive for certain things. 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 confuse selection factors with results.
- The book The Art of Thinking Clearly.