Why our hindsight bias really matters

The importance of hindsight bias should not be dismissed. This is the suggestion of new research published in the Association for Psychological Science journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, which noted the phenomenon - when people believe they knew something all along - is significant because it can get in the way of a person learning from their experiences.

Psychological Scientists from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota found there are three levels of hindsight bias.

According to the researchers, the first is memory distortion and involves misremembering earlier judgements or opinions, while the second considers the perceived inevitability of an event and the third centres on the belief that a person could have foreseen something taking place.

Neal Roese from Northwestern University noted: "If you feel like you knew it all along, it means you won't stop to examine why something really happened."

He added it can be difficult to inform seasoned decision-makers that hindsight bias might affect them.

Emeritus Professor John Maule from Leeds University Business School, a Chartered Psychologist, comments:

"The hindsight bias is one among an increasing number of cognitive biases known to limit the effectiveness of human decision making, including choices made by experts and professionals. This bias leads people to overestimate the accuracy of their judgements so minimising the perceived need to find better ways of thinking.

"But this bias, like many others, can be overcome. For example, in our courses on decision making to a wide range of professionals we present people with decision problems that demonstrate bias in their own behaviour, then teach them thinking techniques for overcoming the bias. For hindsight this includes logging initial judgements, then reviewing them later when the actual outcome is known.

"Unfortunately, most professionals remain unaware of hindsight and the other biases so continue making the same errors that, on occasions, can lead to disastrous outcomes."