Tag Archives: Monday

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:

Neither the Beginning nor the End — Remember the Middle: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 12

It’s Monday, so you know what that means — another cognitive bias! This week, I thought I’d combine two because they’re essentially two sides of the same coin. They are: the primacy effect and the recency effect. Believe it or not, these biases are just what they sound like. The primacy effect is the idea that we overweight information we received ‘near the beginning,’ and the recency effect is the idea that we overweight information we received ‘more recently.’

These biases are usually studied in the context of memory and recall. That is, the primacy effect being that people tend to have a better likelihood of remembering information from the beginning and the recency effect being that people tend to have a better likelihood of remembering information they received more recently.

We can certainly see how this would affect our ability to make bias-free decisions. Let’s say that you’re shopping for a new television. You put in a few days worth of research. The biases we have just mentioned above tell us that we might be more likely to give undue weight to the information we found in the beginning (or the information we found most recently). While the purchase of a TV might not be an “important” decision, what if we were interviewing candidates for a job? We might be more likely to view the people in the beginning more favorably or the people towards the end more favorably. This is part of the reason companies use things like standardized questions during the interview as a way to institute some continuity from one interviewee to the next.

Ways for Avoiding the Primacy/Recency Effect(s)

How you avoid these two biases really depends on the context of the decision you’re making. For instance, if you want people to remember something, you probably don’t want to give them a long list (thereby invoking the possibility of one of these two biases to happen). There are some general ways to mitigate these biases, though.

1) Keep a record (write down the data)

One of the simplest ways that either of these biases can have an impact on a decision is when there isn’t a record of data. If you’re just making a decision based on what you remember, there will be an unnecessary weighting for the beginning or the end. As a result, keeping a record of the choices can make it easier to evaluate all choices objectively.

2) Standardized data

As I mentioned earlier in this post, it’s important that the data by which you’re evaluating a choice be standardized. As we looked at in number one, keeping data isn’t always enough. it’s important that the data be uniform across choices, so an evaluation can be made. In this way, it’s easier to look at earlier choices and later choices equally whereas if this weren’t instituted, there might be a slight bias towards the beginning or the end. This tip would work for situations similar to making a purchase (and gathering data), interviewing candidates, or something that can be analogized to either of these two.

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

Get a Second Opinion Before You Succumb to the Planning Fallacy: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 4

I know that I said that I was going to be talking about a new bias in judgment and decision-making every Monday and I know that today is Tuesday. To be honest — I underestimated how long it would take me to prepare for my seminar in International Relations. Aside: if you want to challenge yourself, take a course in a subject which you know very little about and be amazed at how much you feel like you’ve been dropped into the ocean and told to swim! It can be a little unnerving at first, but if you’re into exploring and open to new experiences, it can be quite satisfying. Anyway, so today yesterday I’d planned to talk about the framing effect, but since I so conveniently demonstrated the planning fallacy, I thought I’d talk about it.

The consequence of this post being written/published today is directly related to my falling into the trap of the planning fallacy. I planned for the preparation for my International Relations class to take a certain amount of time. When that time lasted longer than I had anticipated, I had no time left to write about a bias in judgment and decision-making. The planning fallacy is our tendency to underestimate how long we’ll need to complete a task — especially when we’ve had experiences where we’ve underestimated similar tasks.

This is something that even the best of us fall prey to. In fact, one of the biggest names in cognitive biases Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Prize in economics, but a PhD in psychology!) has said that even he still has a hard time with the planning fallacy. Of course, this doesn’t make it permissible for us not to try to prevent the effects of the planning fallacy.

Before we get into ways for avoiding the planning fallacy, I want to share an excerpt from an oft-cited study when discussing the planning fallacy [emphasis added]:

Participants were provided with a series of specific confidence levels and were asked to indicate the completion time corresponding to each confidence level. In this manner, the participants indicated times by which they were 50% certain they would finish their projects (and 50% certain they would not), 75% certain they would finish, and 99% certain they would finish. When we examined the proportion of subjects who finished by each of these forecasted times, we found evidence of overconfidence. Consider the academic projects: only 12.8% of the subjects finished their academic projects by the time they reported as their 50% probability level, only 19.2% finished by the time of their 75% probability level, and only 44.7% finished by the time of their 99% probability level. The results for the 99% probability level are especially striking: even when they make a highly conservative forecast, a prediction that they feel virtually certain that they will fulfill, people’s confidence far exceeds their accomplishments.

There were a lot of numbers/percentages offered in the excerpt, so I’ve also included a visual representation of the data in a graph below. This graph comes from a book chapter by a couple of the same authors, but it is about the data in the preceding excerpt.






Ways for Avoiding the Planning Fallacy

With the first three biases I talked about, awareness was a key step in overcoming the bias. While you could make that argument for the planning fallacy, one of the hallmarks of [the fallacy] is that people know they’ve erred in the past and still make the mistake of underestimating. So, we’ll need to move beyond awareness to help us defend against this bias.

1) Data is your friend

No, I don’t mean Data from Star Trek (though Data would probably be quite helpful in planning), but now that I think about it, Data (the character) might be a good way to position this ‘way for avoiding the planning fallacy.’ For those of you not familiar, Data is a human-like android. In thinking about this way for avoiding the planning fallacy, think about how Data might estimate the length of time it would take to complete a project. It would be very precise and data-driven. Data would likely look at past projects and how long it took for those to be finished to decide the length of time needed for this new project. To put it more broadly, if you have statistics on past projects (that were similar) absolutely use them in estimating the completion time of the new project.

2) Get a second opinion

When we think about the project completion time of one project in relation to another project, we often think about the nuances that make this project different from that project — and by extension — why this project won’t take as long as that project. Planning fallacy. If you can, ask someone who has experience in project completion in the area for which you’re estimating. When you ask this person, be sure not to tell them all the “various ways why this project is different,” because it probably isn’t and it’s only going to cloud the predictive ability of the person you’re asking. You’re probably going to hear an estimate that’s larger than you thought, but I bet you that it’s probably a lot closer to the real project completion time than the estimate you made based on thinking about the ways that this project was going to be different than all the other projects like it.

If you liked this post, you might like the first three posts in this series: