Swimmer’s Body Illusion

Swimmer’s Body Illusion

Confusing the factors of selection with the consequences.

Didn’t really get it? Let me elaborate this by telling you a story.

This term “Swimmer’s Body Illusion” was coined by an American essayist, author and scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb (who is well known as the author of Black Swan). Once, he decided to reduce the extra weight that he had been putting on. He had always been fascinated with swimmer’s bodies. They appealed to him with their well-built, streamlined bodies. So, it was easy, he decided to learn swimming.

Little did he know that he had been tricked into believing something that wasn’t true, i.e. an illusion. Professional swimmers don’t have perfect bodies because they train extensively, rather they are good swimmers because of their physique. They are chosen or selected in the team, because they are cut out for it.
How appealing their bodies look is a factor of selection and not a result of their activities.

Without this illusion, half of the advertising campaigns won’t work. Let us look at some examples from our daily lives.

👉 Cosmetic products

Ram: Oh look at those models in the X cream commercial or that well groomed man in that Y beard oil commercial. They look so gorgeous and happy and contented.

Shyam: Man! they know what they are doing. These products are really great.

A celestial annoucement from the sky😜: Stop right there! You see, you are falling prey to Swimmer’s Body Illusion.

Think about it. Those models are already beautiful and everything you want to be and that is why they got selected for doing that advertisement. Again not a consequence of using the product but because they look like that, they are selected to be in that commercial.

👉 Colleges

Colleges in their ads talk about great placement stats and they show the list of their notable alumni base and let us assume both the lists are pretty impressive. Let us also assume that they college is not tampering with the data and the data is all legit. Does this mean the college is good, the curriculum, the professors are all top notch and what you expect them to be. Well, may be or may be not. May be the college itself is not upto the mark, but the selection criteria to study in the college is so rigorous that they only admit the creamier part of the lot and because the students are already smart and intelligent, no matter how the college teaches them, they get good placements and eventually all of them succeed in life.

Once again we see the swimmer’s body illusion at work: the factor for selection confused with the result. It’s sad that in real life, most of the time, the illusion wins.

👉 It can also be Self Illusion

Ram: Hey Shyam, you are always so happy in life. What is the secret of your contentment?

Shyam: Well, you see..I always see the glass half full rather than half empty.

It is as if these individuals do not realise that they were born happy, and now tend to see the positive in everything. They do not realise that cheerfulness – according to many studies, such as those conducted by Harvard’s Dan Gilbert – is largely a personality trait that remains constant throughout life. Or, as social scientists David Lykken and Auke Tellegen starkly suggest, ‘trying to be happier is as futile as trying to be taller.’ Thus, the swimmer’s body illusion is also a self-illusion.

There are a million other examples and I go on and on. But you get the gist here 😀

📌 Conclusion

What is the swimmer’s body illusion?

  • a cognitive bias that confuses traits with results
  • we think we can get the body of a professional swimmer by swimming a lot
  • in truth, the swimmer is able to reach a professional level due to already having the ‘right’ body.

I have also been a prey to the illusion.. we all have been. The point of this blog is for us to break the illusion and decide how to look at our world. Understand the difference between the factor for selection and result. And soon, you will understand that you yourself are responsible for your results.

Building accessible software @Microsoft

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