What is a single word for "drawing a decisive conclusion about a phenomenon according to specific personal experience"?

I often encounter people who can follow a pattern like that in an argument:

A: What do you think about the new X cell phone?

B: My sister bought one, and she could not operate it, so it's not user friendly.

It's not only generalization, but also taking a case that you are familiar with and making conclusions about a certain object according to that case even if the conclusion is not relevant or connected.

  • I think you need to explain your thinking a bit more. In this context, I assume user friendly means "easy to operate". Unless B's sister is known to be exceptionally incompetent when dealing with modern technology, the fact that she couldn't operate the new phone is obviously "relevant/connected". The important point is that she's only one person, so maybe there's some other (unspecified) reason why her experience isn't a reliable guide to what others might think. – FumbleFingers Dec 8 '12 at 23:57

The word you are looking for is anecdotal.

Anecdotal (adj): (of an account) not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.

Example: Historic accounts of this era give no indication of any negative impact to fish populations and in fact, anecdotal accounts reflect quite the opposite.


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    Your answer would be improved by including the source of your quoted definition. – KillingTime Aug 31 '20 at 22:23

This Wikipedia article calls it Hasty generalization, but if I were A in OP's example I'd say...

You can't generalise from the particular.

I don't understand why OP says his example is "not only generalization", since that's precisely (and only) what it is. Which arguably makes the question itself pointless, but I'm posting this answer because future visitors might find it after searching for words in the question title.

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    +1 On the baseball site I frequent the catchphrase is SSS, for Small Sample Size, employed to condemn evaluating a player based on his first few weeks in the majors. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 9 '12 at 2:13
  • @StoneyB: Well, I don't know exactly how common it is across the world at large, but "based on a sample size of one" is far from unknown in my neck of the woods. I notice several biology/human origins/SETI contexts in that link - they're certainly typical contexts where I use/encounter it. – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '12 at 3:31
  • Hasty generalization was the first thing that popped into my mind. – J.R. Dec 9 '12 at 3:45
  • @J.R.: Personally, I don't normally even bother with the "hasty" bit. I tend to use words like "universalise/generic" when I have positive connotations in mind. Leaving "generalise" to be almost exclusively a negative term - not that there's really any scope for confusion if I say "You can't generalise", or "You're just generalising". It ain't never a good thing to me. – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '12 at 4:10
  • Your bias against generalizing is shortsighted, I think. We do that all the time. Without generalizations, We'd need to take the time to analyze & reanalyze the same or similar conditions over & over & then arrive at the same inferences over & over. If you see a cobra bite a man who then dies, you immediately generalize that cobras are dangerous & you infer that you must avoid them: next time you see a cobra, you'll avoid it: evolutionary survival value. Overgeneralization is a different thing, but "first impressions are lasting impressions": that's human nature. – user21497 Dec 9 '12 at 6:00

"Hearsay", besides the legal definition, describes the scenario you described:

  1. Unverified information heard or received from another; rumor.
  2. Law Evidence based on the reports of others rather than the personal knowledge of a witness and therefore generally not admissible as testimony.

From the freedictionary.com

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    I don't think this is right. Outside the legal context, hearsay wouldn't normally be used in respect of the known, uncontested evidence/experience of a speaker's sister. It's invariably used in respect of things said by unknown/unspecified people. – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '12 at 0:02
  • @FumbleFingers, maybe it's just me but if someone said to me what OP used for her example, I would say "that's just hearsay! I can't go by that!" – Kristina Lopez Dec 9 '12 at 0:11
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    Okay, so you're A in the example. If I were B, I might reply "No it's not! Phone her up if you don't believe me!" Would my case be weakened if she failed to answer the phone? (she can't work it, don't forget! :) Seriously, I think dismissing evidence from the sister of someone you're actually speaking to as "hearsay" sounds at the very least provocative. What if it was B's wife? Or even B himself? You have to believe some of the people some of the time. – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '12 at 0:22
  • @FumbleFingers, I see your point. I guess I would still want to question any anecdotal statement. I probably would call the source to turn hearsay to something more verifiable. Lol! – Kristina Lopez Dec 9 '12 at 0:55

This is similar to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: basing a conclusion on a single instance. It doesn't matter whether it's true (it's true that the woman in the OP's example sentence found it not user-friendly), false (Reagan's "welfare queen"), or merely hearsay. A single instance of event A followed by event B doesn't prove anything: it merely illustrates a correlation or coincidence.

It's also called "the fallacy of anecdotal evidence" and "the cherry picking fallacy".

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    Post hoc &tc is something different: A happened, then B happened, so A is the cause of B. There's only an A in OP's example, no B. But your others are spot on: a conclusion based on insufficient or unanalyzed evidence, and a conclusion based on improperly selected evidence. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 9 '12 at 2:18
  • @StoneyB: I agree. [1] A: She tried to operate it. B: She failed. Conclusion: It's not user friendly. Okay, being user friendly or unfriendly's not an event but a state. Wikipedia says post hoc's also "referred to as false cause, coincidental correlation, or correlation not causation", similar, not the same; [2] A: The pitcher touched his cap & balls. B: The batter struck out. Conclusion: This pitcher can strike out a batter if he touches his cap & balls before he throws a pitch. The claim that it's not user friendly's based on a 1-case coincidence: false cause. Logic's hard! – user21497 Dec 9 '12 at 2:45
  • The fallacy "after this, therefore because of this" is fine in 2] but would apply in 1] only if the brother somehow concluded that his sister's failure was caused by her attempt (in your example) or by her purchase (in the original). "The iPhone's a good device, if I'd given it to her and shown her how to use it would have worked just fine, but June screws up everything she buys and tries to work out for herself." Of course in that particular case post hoc might (coincidentally) be true. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 9 '12 at 2:57
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    I didn't know that cherry-picking had been elevated to the status of a "fallacy". It sounds a bit weird to me, since it's so strongly associated with deliberately falsifying statistics/attempting to mislead, rather than (possibly accidentally) falling victim to an error of logic. – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '12 at 5:29
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    @Bill: Well, I must say that it would never occur to me to describe XYZ Aspirin's trade puff as "cherry-picking". But arguably if it turns out they only got to Eight out of ten cats prefer Whiskas by starting with 1000 cats, and eliminating 990 of the ones that didn't prefer it from the trial, that would qualify. But in that case I'd be more interested in what they preferred it to (dogfood, perhaps? :) – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '12 at 6:08

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