Old men who wear hats are really bad drivers

Say what?!?!  Those exact words came out of a participant’s mouth during a training I was giving.  The entire group agreed.  Wholeheartedly.  Emphatically.  Vehemently.  As strong as the moon’s pull is on the tides, their belief was unshakable.

Seeing patterns in the waves of information we process every day is as common as craving ice cream on a hot day.  Seeing a pattern is another way of making an assumption or making a generalization. We see a pattern and we assume the pattern is true and right and that it will continue.

For example we have to assume that the sun will rise tomorrow. Questioning everything and anything is a recipe for mental imbalance. We have to make assumptions or we’d go crazy.  It’s natural.

Seeing patterns where none exist though is also, unfortunately, very common.

Fill in the blanks:

_______ are good at math

_______ are bad drivers

_______ are good dancers

Chances are it was easy for you to fill in the blanks.

Generalizations are slippery and seductive and very easy to come by.  When the generalizations or patterns don’t exist however, or when they are harmful, there’s another word for them.


I imagine that my client really did see an older man wearing a hat who was a bad driver.  The individual likely chatted about their experience with a colleague.  Their radar got tuned in to a laser point.  Trouble is they didn’t see the old men who didn’t wear hats who were bad drivers or the young men who didn’t wear hats who were bad drivers or the old men who wore hats who were good drivers or the men who were bald who were bad drivers or…..  The possibilities are endless and dizzying.

Trouble is one or two instances of seeing an old guy with a hat driving badly became a pattern with no basis.  What does a hat have to do with driving (unless of course it’s obscuring your vision but I imagine that wasn’t the case)?  It’s ridiculous.

Try telling that to someone who holds a stereotype.


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2 Responses to “Old men who wear hats are really bad drivers”

  1. The curse of the fedoraed driver, or the pitfalls of false categorisations | realsafzoro Says:
    October 3rd, 2016 at 6:41 am

    […] Of course that’s nonsense. But it sounds like it might be true, and a lot of people of my generation believe headgear predicts cruddy motoring technique. […]

  2. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    October 3rd, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Thanks for your comment Kate. I enjoyed reading your post – “When we see something or someone that annoys us, the natural thing to do is to try to make sense of it and predict future behaviour by creating a category.” So true – especially based on our all too human need to belong, which can make us do some pretty weird stuff.

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