On Swimmer’s Body Illusion

Swimmer’s body illusion: Whenever we confuse selection factors with results we fall prey to the swimmer’s body illusion.


  1. Great swimmers do not develop perfect bodies because of training. They were born with great physiques which helped them to become great swimmers by training.
  2. Female models who are beautiful and advertise cosmetics did not become beautiful by using the cosmetics. They were born beautiful and that is why the cosmetic companies recruited them for their advertising.
  3. Great universities do not convert mediocre people to great people. They have a rigorous selection process, so that the people who study are the brightest students. Therefore they have a record of having many highly successful people who are their alumni.
  4. MBA schools justify the exorbitant fees by providing statistics regarding future income of MBA graduates. Yes, MBA graduates may earn more, but it may be because of the great business school which has a rigorous selection process. Or it may be that the type of person who wants to do a MBA is different from those who are not and these differences account for the income difference and not the MBA itself.
  5. Having a positive outlook is at least partly a trait you were born with. Yes, you can improve it with methods in books like self-help books but cannot  usually convert yourself completely.

The above examples do not mean to say you should not learn swimming, not use cosmetics, do not study hard to get into a great university, get an MBA or improve your positive outlook.

What we are trying to convey is the presence of the swimmer’s body illusion, that you can confuse selection factors with results in many walks of life. Being aware of this will help you to be grounded in what is possible and what is not.

-notes from “The Art Of Thinking Clearly” by Rolf Dobelli


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