5 Scientific Mind: Hindsight Bias

Based on Research by Latane, B., & Darley, J.. Psychology Science Minute written by Sarah Arnett, Psy.D.

Psychology Science Minute brought to you by the School of Psychology at Florida Institute of Technology, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett

Is psychology a science or is it merely documenting the obvious?  Daniel Gilbert and colleagues note that “Good ideas in psychology usually have an oddly familiar quality and the moment we encounter them we feel certain that we knew that all along.”

However, psychologists at the Oregon Research Institute have delineated the “I knew it all along phenomenon” as the hindsight bias.   Can we always trust our common sense and go with our gut? Psychological research has shown that common sense can describe what has happened much more easily than it can predict what will happen. In addition, our tendency as humans is to be over confident in ourselves and what we know. When you combine these two psychological phenomena it can lead us to overestimate our intuition. And sometimes studies show “common sense” is just not true.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t listen to Grandma’s words of wisdom and advice on life? Of course there is a lot of wisdom in the power of observation but the point to remember is to review the latest research and always be open to alternative hypotheses and realities. Maintain a scientific mind to sift out facts from illusion.

That’s your Florida Tech Psychology Science Minute, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.


Meyers, D. (2007). Psychology eighth edition. Worth Publishers. New York: New York

Gilbert, D. T., Pelham, B.W., & Krull, D.S. (2003). The psychology of good ideas. Psychology Inquiry, 14, 258-260.

Fischhoff, B., Slovic, P., & Lichtenstein, S. (1977). Knowing with certainty: The appropriateness of extreme confidence.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 3, 552-564.


Hindsight bias is the inclination to see events that have occurred as being more predictable than they were before they took place. Hindsight bias has been demonstrated experimentally in a variety of settings, including politics, games and medicine.[1] In psychological experiments of hindsight bias, subjects also tend to remember their predictions of future events as having been stronger than they actually were, in those cases where those predictions turn out correct.

One explanation of the bias is the availability heuristic: the event that did occur is more salient in one’s mind than the possible outcomes that did not.

It has been shown that examining possible alternatives may reduce the effects of this bias.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindsight_bias  downloaded, 1/12/11

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