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Reasoning Skills and Jumping to Conclusions Help

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Updated on Sep 29, 2011

Introduction to Reasoning Skills and Jumping to Conclusions

"'To be sure,' said Canby; 'you're on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You're apt to be here for some time.'

'But how did we get here?' asked Milo, who was still a bit puzzled by being there at all.

'You jumped, of course,' explained Canby. 'That's the way most everyone gets here. It's really quite simple; every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not. It's such an easy trip to make that I've been here hundreds of times.'"

—The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961, Random House)

Lesson Summary

Just as there are logical fallacies to beware of in deductive reasoning, there are several logical fallacies to look out for in inductive reasoning. This lesson will show you how to recognize and avoid those fallacies.

Imagine a coworker of yours, Dennis, bumps into you during a coffee break. "You know, I tried the coffee at the new deli this morning," he says, "and it was lousy. What a shame, the new deli stinks."

Oops. Dennis has just been caught jumping to conclusions.

Inductive reasoning, as you know, is all about drawing conclusions from evidence. But sometimes, people draw conclusions that aren't quite logical. That is, conclusions are drawn too quickly or are based on the wrong kind of evidence. This lesson will introduce you to the three logical fallacies that lead to illogical conclusions in inductive reasoning: hasty generalizations, biased generalizations, and non sequiturs.

Hasty Generalizations

A hasty generalization is a conclusion that is based on too little evidence. Dennis's conclusion about the new deli is a perfect example. He'd only been to the new deli once, and he'd only tried one item. Has he given the deli a fair chance? No. First of all, he's only tried the coffee, and he's only tried it one time. He needs to have the coffee a few more times before he can fairly determine whether or not their coffee is any good. Second, he needs to try their other foods as well before he can pass judgment on the whole establishment. Only after he has collected this "evidence" will he have enough premises to lead to a logical conclusion.

Here's another example of a hasty generalization. Let's say you're introduced to a woman named Ellen at work, and she barely acknowledges you. You decide she's cold and arrogant. Is your conclusion fair? Maybe Ellen was preoccupied. Maybe she was sick. Maybe she had a big meeting she was heading to. Who knows? The point is, you only met her once, and you drew a conclusion about her based on too little evidence.

A few weeks later, you meet Ellen again. This time, she's friendly. She remembers meeting you, and you have a pleasant conversation. Suddenly you have to revise your conclusion about her, don't you? Now you think she's nice. But the next time you see her, she doesn't even say hello. What's happening here? You keep jumping to conclusions about Ellen. But you really need to have a sufficient number of encounters with her before you can come to any conclusions.

Hasty generalizations have a lot in common with stereotypes. In the case of stereotypes, conclusions about an entire group are drawn based upon a small segment of that group. Likewise, hasty generalizations draw conclusions about something based on too small a sample, such as one cup of coffee, or two or three encounters with Ellen.

Here are a few more hasty generalizations:

Brandon is a jock, and he's a lousy student. All jocks are lousy students.
Suzie is blonde, and she has a lot of fun. So I guess it's true that blondes have more fun.

You'd need to see a lot more examples of jocks and blondes before either of these conclusions could be justified.

Tip

We make hasty generalizations all the time. The man on the bus did a double take when you climbed on so your outfit must look weird. Your boss didn't respond to you when you said "Good morning" so you must be next to get fired. The book your teacher asked you to read looks boring so you will hate it. The cloud just went under the sun so it's going to pour any minute. Making decisions without enough evidence usually leads to mistakes, both big and small.

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