21. Looks Can Be Deceiving: The Representation Bias

I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.

—G. Marx

A few years back, a survey found that 66 percent of all African-American boys between the ages of 13 and 18 believed that they could earn a living playing professional sports.1 In reality, the odds that any high school athlete will play a sport on the professional level are about 10,000 to 1! How could these boys’ estimates be so off target?

The answer is that these boys are suffering from the representation bias. They are assessing the likelihood of an event based on how closely it resembles some other event or set of events.2 The media and advertisers bombard young black men with stories of kids who grew up in the ...

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