Have you ever noticed that things that happen seem more predictable after they have already happened? The results of an election, for example, often seem more obvious after the results are counted. In other words, things always seem more obvious and predictable after they have already happened. In psychology, this is what is known as hindsight bias and it can have a great impact not only on your beliefs but also on your behaviors. It can also influence your daily decisions!
What is hindsight bias?
The term hindsight bias refers to the tendency for people to view events as more predictable than they really are. Before an event takes place, while you may be able to offer a guess about the outcome, there is really no way to really know what is going to happen.
After what has happened, people often believe that they knew the outcome of the event before it actually happened. This is why it is often referred to as the phenomenon: ‘I knew this was going to happen!’
The phenomenon has been demonstrated in several different situations, including politics and sporting events. In experiments, people often remember their predictions before the event happened as much stronger than they actually were.
Examples of hindsight bias
Researchers Martin Bolt and John Brink (1991) asked college students to predict how the United States Senate would vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court candidate Clarence Thomas. Before the vote in the Senate, 58% of the participants predicted that it would be confirmed. When students returned to vote after Thomas was confirmed, 78% of the participants said they thought Thomas would be approved.
Hindsight bias is often referred to as the “know-it-all phenomenon.” It implies the tendency for people to assume that they knew the outcome of an event once the outcome has already been determined. For example, after attending a soccer game, you could insist that you knew the winning team was going to win beforehand.
High school and college students often experience hindsight bias during the course of their studies. As they read your course texts, the information may seem easy. “Of course”, students often think after reading the results of a study or experiment. “I knew it all the time.” However, this can be a dangerous habit for students to fall into, especially as test time approaches. Assuming they already knew the information, they may not be able to study properly and the information may not be stored in their mind as it should.
However, when it comes to taking an exam, such as multiple choice tests, it can make many students realize that they did not know the material as well as they thought. However, by being aware of this potential problem, students can develop good study habits to overcome the tendency to assume they ‘knew everything’.
Understand it better
What causes this type of bias to occur? The researchers suggest that three key variables interact to contribute to this tendency to see things as more predictable than they actually are.
- People tend to distort and even not remember predictions prior to what happened. They really think they knew the answer all the time.
- People have a tendency to see events as inevitable. When evaluating something that has happened, you tend to assume that it was something that was simply meant to happen.
- People also tend to assume that they could have foreseen certain events.
When these three factors easily occur in a situation, hindsight bias is more likely to occur. When a movie comes to an end and we find out who the killer really was, we might recall our memory of the movie and recall our initial impressions of the guilty character. We could also look at all the secondary characters and situations and believe that given these variables, it was clear what was going to happen. You might believe that the movie was too predictable for you, but in reality it was not.