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The Truth about Overgeneralization

Brian is an aspiring writer that seeks to inform and educate the public through informative and educational pieces from various categories.



Do you ever find yourself being biased at times when faced with a certain situation or person?
Have you ever noticed the tendency to generalize or even overgeneralize unnecessarily and take things out of context?
Generalization is basically a broad statement about a group of people or things; it states that the person or things in question share something in common. It is, in fact, a means of extending the characteristics of a number of elements from a group or class to the entire group. These elements could range from people, animals, objects, and even events.

A universal proposition based on a particular fact is called generalization and it is an essential component of a wider scientific process. When applied correctly, it helps one to obtain an in-depth grasp of reality and the subject matter in question. On the other hand, overgeneralization is when one applies the concept of generalization in a detrimental manner.

Essentially, when we come into contact with more than a few elements from a category, we generalize that they share the same characteristics and group them together. There is a possibility of reaching a vague and inaccurate conclusion when we extend the characteristics of a number of elements from a group to fit the rest of the group. Overgeneralizing occurs when we select a small sample and use it to represent the entire population.

To elaborate it well, let us take a look at an example. For instance, there are 10 members in group Z. The first member, Z1 possesses characteristic A. The second member, Z2, also possesses characteristic A. Another member, Z3, when examined is found to possess characteristic A as well.
So far, it seems like the members in group Z share the same characteristics. If we believe that all the members of group Z possess characteristics A without examining each member individually to identify if there is any discrepancy, then we are overgeneralizing.

Overgeneralization is an extremely widespread phenomenon in society, very much so if we are dealing with people and emotions are involved. Oftentimes, we fail to recognize that we are being controlled by emotions or past experiences, which makes us form conclusions on the little experience that we think is relevant. For example, we may have an unfavorable experience with a particular group of people from a specific background.

The experience led us to form a general perception that people from the group with similar background behaves and acts in the same way. A good representation of this is in the way we view our Muslim friends as terrorists, which is not fair to the other Muslims, who do not share the beliefs of causing hurt in the name of the religion. This leads to the breakdown of societal peace and destroys faith in humanity.

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Another way overgeneralization can cause harm and destruction is when it takes the form of limiting beliefs. You may inhibit your potential through self-limiting beliefs, whereby you think you will not be able to reach your true potential just because of the way you are, your identity, and the environment you are in. Some people plant the idea in themselves that success is not for them and it is unattainable because of their origin and background.

The common reason is that they choose to believe that their predecessors were living the same life for countless generations, and they think that it should be the same too for them. This is a form of generalizing without even realizing that it is because of absurd fears and lack of effort in changing their reality.

So how do we avoid overgeneralizing? Well, since it is a thought process and we have control over it, we can start by paying conscious attention to our thoughts. When we start to realize that we are beginning to pass judgment, we should stop questioning its validity by considering the various relevant quantitative or qualitative experiences to support the judgment.

As most generalizations stem from our general belief system, we can avoid this by going out to explore the world and gain real experience in order to be able to make sound deductions instead of relying on a set of pre-determined beliefs.


Liz Westwood from UK on June 03, 2019:

My father was a great one for generalization. I have read your article with interest.

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