Here is another in our series of Beauty Skepticism. This time we’re talking about causation, correlation and the tendency of people to fool themselves.
What is Causation?
Causation is the belief that one thing is the result of (or is caused by) something else. For example, you apply nail polish and your nails are colored which leads you to believe that nail polish caused the colored nails.
Sometimes the relationship is immediately obvious as in the nail polish example. Other times it is not so obvious as is the case when your skin turns color hours after applying an artificial tanning lotion. Did the lotion really cause the color change?
Our brains are hard-wired to notice cause-and-effect relationships and we start developing this skill early on in childhood. It is a great quality and humanity would not have developed as far as we have without it. However, our world is not simple and we tend to see cause-and-effect relationships when they aren’t there. It’s especially wrong when applied to beauty products.
What is Correlation?
Related to causation is the concept of correlation. These are any two facts that seem to go together such as gray hair and age. Correlations often provide new areas for science to investigate, but they do not prove anything themselves. Belief that they do is something that leads people to have mistaken beliefs.
Unrelated facts can go together just as easily as related facts due to random chance. Did you know that as ice cream sales rise, so do shark attacks? Unless menacing sharks are watching the lines at Ben & Jerry’s, these correlated facts do not have a causal relationship. More likely is that in the summer more people eat ice cream & more people go into the ocean.
The Problem with Causation
The problem with seeing cause and effect relationships from correlated events is that we are too quick to create associations that are just not true.
Correlation does not equal causation.
We see two facts, assume they are related, then conclude that one has caused the other.
On the Beauty Brains many examples can be found in our comments sections.
Fact: My hair is falling out.
Fact: I use Pantene.
Conclusion: Pantene must be causing my hair to fall out.
While the first two facts may be true, the conclusion that Pantene causes the hair to fall out is not warranted. There are many other explanations for why hair falls out that have nothing to do with using Pantene or any other product.
Fact: You use a skin lotion with Aloe
Fact: Your skin looks and feels better than it did
Conclusion: Aloe makes skin look and feel better.
This is one possible explanation, but a better explanation is that the skin lotion, not the Aloe, improved your skin. Applying pure Aloe extract to your skin has very little benefit. And it’s probably not in the lotion at a high enough concentration to do anything.
How to stop being fooled
The truth is things change. Skin gets better or it gets worse. Acne appears then disappears. Hair may fall out or be hard to comb or easy to comb or look shiny, etc. This doesn’t mean that anything you’ve used or done has caused it.
Sometimes things just happen without any explanation
If you want to avoid being fooled by beauty BS then you’ll have to fight against your natural tendency to see cause and effect relationships. Remain skeptical of any bit of advice, advertisement, or even personal conclusions based on observation.
Keep your mind and imagination open to the possibility that there are other explanations for correlated events. Understand that sometimes…things happen for unexplained reasons.
Beauty Brains Bottom Line
Causation and correlation can often lead you to believe things that aren’t true. You can avoid being fooled by keeping your mind open to the possibility that you don’t know everything and some of your beliefs may be wrong.
It’s better to know nothing than to believe something that is wrong
We’ll leave you with the following question.
If people who are losing their hair wear hats more often than people who aren’t, does that mean wearing a hat causes hair loss?
Do you have some strange correlated facts? Leave a comment and let the rest of the Beauty Brains community figure out if they are connected.