Know-it-all? You May Have Hindsight Bias
September 10, 2012

Expert Prognosticator? Not So Fast, Researchers Warn

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

That annoying friend of yours who always boasts about how he or she knew the butler did it, or that the home team would come back to win the big game, or that the completely innocent-seeming neighbor down the street was actually a criminal mastermind? Turns out they're actually just suffering from something called "hindsight bias."

In a new study published in this month's edition of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science (PPS), researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Minnesota reviewed previous research on the phenomenon, the Association for Psychological Science said in a September 7 statement.

Following their research, the authors contend that there are three levels of hindsight bias, each of which can be built one on top of another.

The first level is known as memory distortion, and involves an incorrect recollection of a previous opinion or judgment on the topic at hand (i.e. saying "I said it would happen").

The second is called inevitability, and involves the mind believing that it had correctly forecast an easily predictable outcome (i.e. saying "It had to happen.").

The third, foreseeability, centers around the belief that the person could have correctly predicted the event's outcome (i.e. "I knew that was going to happen").

"The problem is that too often we actually didn't know it all along, we only feel as though we did," lead researchers Neal Roese and Dr. Kathleen Vohs said, according to the Daily Mail.

Additionally, Roese, a professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, told Telegraph Science Correspondent Nick Collins, "If you feel like you knew it all along, it means you won't stop to examine why something really happened. It's often hard to convince seasoned decision makers that they might fall prey to hindsight bias."

While it might be easy to dismiss this bias as harmless, the overconfidence it breeds could make people too overconfident in their own judgments, leading business professionals to make risky investments or others to take ill-conceived chances with their time and/or money. It could also have legal repercussions, the researchers warn, such as in the case of medical malpractice, negligence, or liability in terms of a particular good or service.

"So what, if anything, can we do about it?" the Association for Psychological Science asks. "Roese and Vohs suggest that considering the opposite may be an effective way to get around our cognitive fault, at least in some cases. When we are encouraged to consider and explain how outcomes that didn't happen could have happened, we counteract our usual inclination to throw out information that doesn't fit with our narrative. As a result, we may be able to reach a more nuanced perspective of the causal chain of events."