A hasty generalization is a logical fallacy that occurs when an argument arrives at its conclusion with too little evidence to support it.
Fortunately, if you take the time to strengthen your analytical senses, you can avoid making these mistakes in your own arguments, and you’ll be able to recognize when other people use erroneous logic in their arguments.
Hasty generalizations often take this form: “if it’s true in this case, it is true in all cases.”
We know that a claim being true in one case does not mean it holds in all cases. Politicians and political pundits make hasty generalizations all the time. Trump repopularized the hasty generalization with his comments on Mexicans, and racial stereotypes are precisely what this brand of flawed logic is rooted in—the quick to jump to conclusion style of thinking is what this fallacy is based on (don’t be that person.)
The hasty generalization fallacy is a sub-type of the false cause fallacy.
Jane loves fast food—it’s all she eats. She’s not concerned about her eating habits because she has a friend that, “only eats fast food and hasn’t had any health problems for months.”
Jane’s logic implies that because her friend hasn’t experienced any issues with eating only fast food, people, in general, will not experience issues eating fast food.
The conclusion is based on a single sample, i.e., Jane has a friend that didn’t have problems eating fast food. Is this sufficient evidence to believe that people, in general, won’t be affected?
This is a case where the generalization was made hastily, and so resulted in an incorrect argument (and bad eating habits.)
Sam got the bumper of his car hit by another driver. It turns out that the other driver is a woman. Sam was in a previous car accident with another woman too.
Sam concludes that because this is the second time he got into a small fender bender with a woman, women don’t know how to drive.
There are many women drivers, as there are male drivers. Sam happened to get in two separate accidents with women, is this enough evidence to conclude that women do not know how to drive, period?
Statistically speaking, getting into two separate accidents, both with women is not enough to conclude that women do not know how to drive. This argument uses a hasty generalization to make its point.
Jeff smokes a pack a day because his uncle smoked nearly two packs a day and he lived to be 95.
Jeff’s logic tells us that because his uncle smoked two packs a day throughout his life, it must be okay for Jeff to do the same and that he will be similarly unaffected. As we know based on the hasty generalization fallacy, just because Jeff’s uncle was able to smoke 2 packs a day without having an issue, this doesn’t infer that the majority of people will be similarly unaffected.
Jeff is guilty of using faulty logic or generalizing to make his argument appear valid when it is in fact invalid and generalizes too quickly without giving sufficient support to its grounds.
Jack met a few people with red hair in his life, but he thought they were all mean. Jack now believes all redheads are mean and no longer associates with them.
If you have red hair you might be offended by this since you know that just because a few people with red hair might be mean, surely this doesn’t mean all people with red hair are mean.
Jack has jumped the gun in his train of thought and is guilty of faulty generalizing in his belief that all redheads are mean.
In psychology, there is a term called ‘stimulus generalization’ where this actually occurs. For example, psychiatrist John Watson trained a child – Little Albert – to be scared of all white things!
This also happens to be a false dilemma fallacy because there are only top assumptions: either all redheads are nice, or all redheads are mean.
Everyone that signed up for the diet program said they lost weight. People will lose weight if they go on this diet.
The first issue with this example is that we have no idea how many people were in the diet program in the first place. It could have been one person that was enrolled, in which case, a diet working for one person does not mean it will work for everyone.
This example gives too little evidence to be able to successfully make the claim that people will lose weight by joining this dieting program. Much more evidence is needed in order for this claim to avoid being a hasty generalization. For example, a peer reviewed study would be very helpful here!
6. Kids are Cruel
“My child is being treated poorly be peers in his kindergarten class. Kids are so cruel!”
While it is true that some kids are cruel, surely this does not mean that all kids are cruel.
This is a hasty generalization since one kid being cruel does not provide enough evidence to conclude that all kids are cruel.
Many adults may feel this way if they had a tough time in high school. They may see high school as an overwhelmingly negative place full of mean kids. However, this negates the fact that many other children go through highschool and have, by and large, a lovely and harmonious time there.
“Anytime I’ve gone to a Japanese restaurant, the food was terrible. Japanese food is not good.”
Given that there are probably tens of thousands of Japenese restaurants in North America alone, it’s likely that the sample size being referred to in this example is not sufficiently large to conclude that Japanese food isn’t good, in general.
Here, one person’s experience of a certain cuisine does not give enough evidence to make a conclusion that all Japenese food is not good.
This is a common hasty generalization children make, which is why you often hear people saying that children are picky eaters. They get an idea in their head that is, generally, based on a hasty generalization.
“Growing up, none of my brothers or my dad would ever clean up around the house. Men are useless when it comes to doing chores.”
As we now know from the hasty generalization fallacy, it does not follow that all men are useless around the house just because some men might be useless at cleaning. This is a hasty generalization because the argument is based on too small a sample size to support its conclusion.
To revise the statement so that it is not logically fallacious—you might say that while not all men are useless at cleaning up, some men are—or, more specifically, my brothers and father were never good at cleaning up around the house.
“On a study done on homeschooling, 75 out of 100 women surveyed said that they work on a tight schedule. Therefore, 75% of homeschooling moms work on a tight schedule.”
This may seem to be like a logical argument at first sight; however, if we look closer, we can see that concluding 75% of women, in general, have rigid homeschooling schedules does not follow in this case. One of the first things to consider if you suspect there might be a faulty generalization is to look at the sample size that the information is being pulled from.
In this case, there were only 100 women surveyed. To revise the hasty generalization, we should edit the statement to say that of the 100 women that were surveyed on homeschooling, 75 claimed to have rigid homeschooling schedules. Therefore, 75% of the women surveyed had rigid homeschooling schedules.
“Did you hear about those teenagers that vandalized the store downtown? Teenagers are so irresponsible and thoughtless.”
The move from the general to the particular is where we can locate the hasty generalization in this statement. The conclusion is weak because it’s based on a finding from a single incident and then applied to teenagers in general.
To avoid making a hasty generalization here, the statement would have to be revised to a claim much less general. For example—
“Did you hear about those teenagers that vandalized the store downtown? Teenagers can sometimes be so irresponsible and thoughtless.”
Sally had an adverse reaction to a medicine that she took, and so she warned her friends not to take that same medicine because they will have that reaction too.
Sally is wrong to advise her friends not to take that medicine just because she had an adverse reaction, since it’s likely the case that not everyone will react the same way to the medication that Sally did.
Sally could say that she had a negative experience with that medication, and that it’s possible others could react similarly. She cannot conclude, however, that all people will react the same as she did, since she does not have enough to support that conclusion.
12. Social Media Perfectionism
The world of social media is riddled with hasty generalizations. Social media shows the world through rose-colored lenses—everyone is smiling, laughing, and having the times of their lives without a care in the world.
When we look at social media, we are oftentimes making conclusions about other people and their lives based on what we can see from what they choose to post.
Evidently, people post the exciting parts of their lives, not the boring or uneventful parts. Making conclusions on how other people’s lives are actually going based on their social media is logically fallacious, and specifically uses the hasty generalization error.
Media advertisements often make claims about how experts recommend certain products. Toothpaste commercials usually include statements that a certain toothpaste is recommended by dentists as being the best toothpaste you can get.
While the toothpaste may in fact be recommended by dentists, unless we’re given specific information on how many dentists recommend this product out of however many dentists were surveyed—we cannot conclude it’s the best toothpaste, or that dentists wouldn’t recommend other kinds of toothpaste just as much.
“As a rule, the market does better under Democratic presidents. The last 4 years alone proves the point.”
The last 4 years is in reference to the Obama administration when the stock market rose roughly 20%. The argument, or line of reasoning here is that democratic policies and administration result in a better performing economic market, and that 4 years is enough evidence to prove this is true.
This argument jumps to conclusions because it is extremely vague and ambiguous. It doesn’t specify any causal relationship between democratic policies and a rise in the stock market, it simply notes that while there is a democrat incumbent, the market performs better.
“A balanced, nutritious diet is the best way to overcome any disease. My aunt had breast cancer, and then she removed all meats and dairy from her diet and now only eats vegetables, fruits, and whole foods. She is now healthier than ever before.”
We are now well-versed with hasty generalizations and can see clearly that citing your aunt’s experience of eating healthy does not mean that eating healthy is a cure for all illnesses and diseases. Citing one example is not enough grounds to lead to the conclusion in this case.
Other Types of Fallacies
- Slippery Slope Fallacy Examples
- Straw Man Fallacy Examples
- Red Herring Fallacy Examples
- 21 Types of Heuristics
- Fundamental Attribution Error Examples
- Equivocation Fallacy Examples
Based on the examples we have reviewed, hasty generalizations tend to follow a similar format. It starts by a specific claim that applies to a small sample size, and then makes the move to the general by applying that information broadly.
The ‘jump,’ or hastiness in reaching a conclusion based on insufficient evidence is where the fallacy exists. We now know from taking the time to understand how hasty generalization’s work, that you cannot base an argument or claim on an isolated incident and then assume it is true broadly, in all cases.
Hopefully, by taking the time to recognize how the fallacy works, you can identify it when it appears in other’s arguments, and refrain from making hasty generalizations in your own arguments.