Hindsight is Always 20/20: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 15

While it is a little later than I would have liked, it still is Monday (at least in EDT). Today’s cognitive bias: hindsight bias. As many of the previous biases, this is exactly how it sounds. In fact, there’s even a handy idiom to help you remember the gist of this bias: “Hindsight’s 20/20.”

So, what is the hindsight bias? It’s the idea that when looked at a course of events after they’ve happened, things seem quite predictable. ‘I knew that was gonna happen.’ This often happens in spite of someone not thinking those events were going to happen. That is to say, even if they thought there was little likelihood of an event happening, after the fact, someone would think that it would obviously happen. Let me further explain it through an example. Let’s start with an easy example, too.

Remember back to when you were applying to college/university? Let’s say a letter comes in the mail telling this person that they’ve been accepted. When they tell their parents about it, mom gets really excited and says that she knew it all along. Meanwhile, she had previously expressed doubts that this person was going to get accepted. That’s a hindsight bias. Like I did with the gambler’s fallacy, I’ll list some other common ways we can see the hindsight bias affecting us:

  • You tell your friend that you think it’s going to rain later that day — and it does! So, you say something to the effect of, “I was sure it was going to rain!”
  • You give your number out at the bar, but the person doesn’t call you for a few days. When the person eventually calls, you tell yourself that you were sure he was going to call.
  • You’re getting ready to go on a trip and you tell your friend that you’re sure you’re to forget something. When you get to your destination, it turns out you did forget something, so you tell your friend that you knew it was going to happen.

These are some everyday examples, but hindsight bias has proven to be very important in the judicial system. For instance: “Hindsight bias results in being held to a higher standard in court. The defense is particularly susceptible to these effects since their actions are the ones being scrutinized by the jury. Due to the hindsight bias, defendants will be judged as being capable of preventing the bad outcome.”

Ways for Avoiding the Hindsight Bias

1) Write it down!

This might be a bit tedious, but it’s a surefire way to guard against the hindsight bias. I’ve read a few articles about folks who’ve documented every prediction that they’ve ever made. While this had more to do with their profession (forecasting, stocks, etc.) it might be something you want to consider.

2) “I knew it all along!”

Have you ever found yourself saying, “I knew it all along,” or “I’m was sure it was going to happen?” These are good indicators that you’re probably operating under the hindsight bias. When you catch yourself saying these phrases, stop and think about what has happened in the situation. Chances are that you’ve “short-circuited” and you’re not thinking about what’s happened to cause that situation.

If you liked this post, you might like one of the other posts in this series:

Published by Jeremiah Stanghini

Jeremiah's primary aim is to provide readers with a new perspective. In the same vein as the "Blind Men and the Elephant," it can be difficult to know when one is looking at the big picture or if one is simply looking at a 'tusk' or a 'leg.' He writes on a variety of topics: psychology, business, science, entertainment, politics, history, etc.

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