Hindsight Bias: Definition and Examples

What is hindsight bias?

Hindsight bias The tendency to think, after something has occurred, that we knew the outcome beforehand.OR hindsight bias tendency to overestimate how well we could have successfully forecasted known outcomes.

Hindsight bias definition 

Hindsight bias, the tendency to mold our recollection of the past to fit how events later turned out. Something happens and we then say, “I knew that was going to happen!”

Hindsight bias examples

First example:-Three weeks before the impeachment trial of U.S. President Clinton in 1999, college students were asked to predict the outcome. On average they estimated the probability of a conviction at 50.5%. A week and a half after Clinton was not convicted, they were asked, “What would you have said 41/2 weeks ago was the chance [of a conviction]?” On average, they reported a 42.8% estimate (Bryant & Guilbault, 2002). 

Another example:- As you can imagine, an image gradually morphs from a blur to an elephant. At what point do you think the average person would identify it as an elephant? 

It is hard to imagine not knowing it will be an elephant. On this and similar sequences, most people overestimate how soon people will recognize the image (Bernstein, Atance, Loftus, & Meltzoff, 2004). That is, they show hindsight bias.

Hindsight bias can affect judgments in legal cases. In one study, community adults were told about the possible hazards of a train going around a mountain track. Some participants were asked whether the company should cease operations for safety reasons. 

One third said yes. The other participants were told, in addition, that a train had derailed, spilling toxic chemicals into a river. They were asked whether the company should pay punitive damages for irresponsibly continuing operations in spite of foreseeable dangers. Two-thirds said yes (Hastie, Schkade, & Payne, 1999). That is, after people knew about the accident, they thought it was foreseeable.

Hindsight bias is not altogether irrational. When you are making a prediction, you receive a huge array of information, some of it unimportant or wrong. When you get the final outcome, you reasonably conclude that the information that had pointed in the correct direction was the best. 

You want to focus on that information so you can pay more attention to it in the future (Hoffrage, Hertwig, & Gigerenzer, 2000). In the process, you accidentally convince yourself that you were already strongly influenced by that information.

Read more articles

Deindividuation definition and factors

Groupthink-Examples, Symptoms, Causes, Avoiding and Solutions

Belief-Bias vs Confirmation bias

Hindsight bias in psychology

Hindsight bias, where after something has occurred we think we “knew it all along.” For example, prior to an election, Clair might think that it’s not clear who will win. But after the election has been decided and she knows who won, it might be difficult to imagine how it could have been otherwise, so Clair might think that she knew all along who would win (Ashcraft, 2002).

Unfortunately, hindsight bias can cause people to blame victims (Janoff-Bulman & colleagues, 1985). If asked beforehand, we might think it would be safe for Melissa to walk back to her dorm after studying late at the campus library.

But if we learn that she was assaulted on her way home, we might think that she should have realized that it was dangerous to walk alone at night and that she is partially to blame for not being more careful. Counterfactual thinking can also increase self-blame (Branscombe & colleagues, 2003).

Article Sources

Lilienfeld, Scott O. Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding. Boston: Pearson / A & B, 2009.

Krull, Douglas S.Introduction to Psychology. Kona Publishing and Media Group (2014)

Kalat, James W.Introduction to Psychology.Wadsworth Publishing; 8 edition (April 12, 2007)

1 thought on “Hindsight Bias: Definition and Examples”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *