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Hindsight Bias

 

Explanations > Theories > Hindsight Bias

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

It can be embarrassing when things happen unexpectedly. To cover up this embarrassment we will tend to view things which have already happened as being relatively inevitable and predictable.

This can be caused by the reconstructive nature of memory. When we look back, we do not have perfect memory and tend to ‘fill in the gaps’.

This is also known as the ‘I-knew-it-all-along’ effect, reflecting a common response to surprise.

Hindsight bias can be reduced when people stop to think carefully about the causes of the surprise. It is also important to consider how other things might have happened.

Research

Fischhoff gave participants a detailed description of an event that could have had various outcomes. When the people were told of what 'happened' (this was varied for the experiment, of course) and then asked to estimate the probabilities of the various outcomes, they increased the likelihood of the 'actual' outcome. 

Example

Fatalism is a whole branch of philosophy dedicated to explaining how things are inevitable. It is very helpful for those using hindsight bias.

So what?

Using it

If you want someone to believe something, engineer a slightly disturbing surprise such that they will have to change their beliefs (and even their memories) in order explain it.

Defending

When you are surprised, bite your tongue before you say you are not surprised. It is not a sin to be surprised and it is a great opportunity for real learning.

See also

Cognitive Dissonance, Consistency Theory, Elaboration Likelihood Model, Interview Illusion

References

Fischhoff and Beyth (1975), Slovic and Fischhoff (1977)

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