Never posted on this stack site before, so I hope I'm not being rude.

I would like to know what bias, fallacy, or combination thereof is involved in the case of treating a (probably rotating) group of people as a single person against which you judge yourself.

Positive example: the very smart members of an online forum discuss a wide range of topics. You read the forum, not paying attention to who is posting any given response, and feel lacking in intelligence by comparison to this theoretical brilliant person who has something to say about every topic. Consequentially you feel stupid.

Negative example: you walk past an ice cream shop every day and look in the window at the patrons, who are different every time. You wish you, too, could eat ice cream every day. Consequentially you over-indulge in ice cream.

  • 2
    One way that one could get around such confusions is to acknowledge the abstraction which comes from ignoring identity, and think in terms of societies. For example: the internet forum is inhabited by a society of people who engage in a high quality of discussion, so that participating meaningfully in that society would involve meeting that norm. At the ice-cream stand, one can recognise that eating ice-cream is a popular activity in society, while recognising that only a tiny fraction of society is at the stand at any given time, so that most of society must do it infrequently. Jan 11, 2013 at 18:00
  • Definitely, I don't disagree. And thank you for the response. But what I'd like to know are specific names for the fallacy (or fallacies) involved. For instance, it seems like it might be some odd combination of hasty generalization and the fallacy of composition... but I'm outside my field, only knowing these terms from Wikipedia.
    – user2980
    Jan 11, 2013 at 19:13
  • Ah, yes. I don't know if it's any sort of classic or named fallacy; though it seems like something closely related to the Hasty Generalization fallacy. Jan 11, 2013 at 19:56

2 Answers 2


It sounds like the fallacy of composition/division where the traits of a group are wrongly attributed to a part of that group, or vice-versa. In your first example, you are attributing the brilliance of the group to a single (largely imaginary) representative of that group. The second example is the same, the behavior of eating ice cream every day is wrongly applied to a fictive representative of the group.

  • That would be a bias not a fallacy. A fallacy is a problem in the composition of an argument. Feeling inadequate because you're confusing several people as one or the other way around is not an argument.
    – haxor789
    Jul 28, 2022 at 15:11

It seems closely related to a combination of the (non-random) sample of convenience, and confirmation bias. You characterize it as the comparison of yourself to a composite stereotype, but I am not sure that is a necessary step in the process.

You are

1) choosing the people in a list in front of you, always finding half of them brighter than you are, and judging your intelligence deficient,


2) choosing the people in a window, finding it OK they are indulging themselves, and judging this indulgence normal.

In each case you have a sample of convenience and a bias to confirm. With or without constructing the hasty stereotype, the result is similar.

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