What is hindsight bias? Psychologists explain

  • Hindsight bias is a thinking pattern that convinces you that you know a particular outcome all the time.
  • This can make handling the trauma difficult, due to the belief that it could have been prevented.
  • Hindsight bias can also influence our approach to decision making in the future.

If you’ve ever heard the cliched phrase “hindsight is 20/20,” you’re familiar with the hindsight bias.

Hindsight bias — or “I realize it all the time” — is a social psychology term for people’s tendency to believe that they could have predicted the outcome of an event already after the fact, explains Dr. Stephanie Freitag, a licensed staff psychologist at Westchester Cups and Assistant Professor at Emory College of Medicine.

It is important to recognize bias too late because it can distort our view of reality and impair decision-making. It can be an obstacle in relationships, in work, in recovery from trauma, and in mental health problems.

Here’s why it’s important and how to prevent it from negatively impacting your life.

What is hindsight bias?

Hindsight bias occurs when you overestimate your ability to judge the outcome of a situation that has already occurred.

“This is a type of distorted thinking and is one of the common cognitive biases that a person can have,” he explains Dr. Nereda Gonzalez Priusa psychiatrist in a private clinic.

According to Gonzalez Perius, hindsight bias can:

  • Make you think you should have known what would happen
  • Make you believe that the problem you predicted earlier was possible

“After the event, they will feel that their predictions were absolutely correct,” Gonzalez Perius says.

Examples of hindsight bias

Danielle McGraw, a licensed clinical psychologist whose work focuses on unhelpful thought patterns, provides some examples of what hindsight bias can look like in everyday situations:

  • Don’t invest in stocks and when the stock goes up think, “I knew it was going to go up! I should have bought the stock.”
  • When a relationship ends due to a partner’s infidelity or other reckless behavior, people often say, “I told you it was bad news” or “I told you the relationship wasn’t going to work.”
  • After watching a play in the big game, she plays quarterback on the couch: “They should’ve known the other team was going to do that play! It was so obvious.”

Additional examples of hindsight bias that can be particularly harmful in the context of trauma are provided:

  • “If I hadn’t had a lot of alcohol, I wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted.”
  • “If I hadn’t trusted this person, I wouldn’t have been hurt.”
  • “If I hadn’t visited my mother, she wouldn’t get sick and die.”
  • “As a veteran, if I hadn’t broken into that building, the women and children wouldn’t have died.”

“It’s not helpful because if they really knew what the outcome would be with certainty, they would have made different decisions,” McGraw explains.

“Right now, we have 100 percent of the information about how the situation will turn out. When we make decisions in those moments, we have a lot less information.” [available] and make the best decision with the information we have at the time.”

How to recognize and overcome hindsight bias

Freitag offers the following advice on steps to take once your bias is recognized too late:

  • Engaging in self-reflection, such as writing a journal or talking with a therapist
  • Try to meet biased thoughts with unjudgmental clemency
    • This helps you acknowledge that you have prejudice, as everyone does, without resenting yourself for it
  • Talk to others, read or use online resources to educate yourself about different thinking styles
  • The next time you find yourself jumping to a conclusion in the future, realize that it may be colored by bias – step back and deliberately pause before responding.
  • Keep a log of checking your ideas against real world data.
    • Find people who can hold you accountable: your friends, partner, or family.

Dr Megan Marcum, chief psychiatrist at AMFM Healthcare.

Biases, including hindsight bias, lead people to make mistakes in work and relationships. Other common cognitive biases include:

  • confirmation biasWhen you focus on data that matches what you already think is true and less on the rest
  • implicit bias (The unconscious stereotypes that seep into everyday life).

How past traumas are viewed through hindsight bias

Hindsight bias is often something that trauma victims experience as a way of understanding the traumatic event.

For example, a sexual assault victim may think she has a way of anticipating or stopping the event by doing something different — like drinking less, wearing something different, or keeping a different company.

In this way, bias can work too late in a file An effort to understand traumatic or uncomfortable events in the past Even if it means blaming someone who doesn’t deserve it, like you.

“It’s also a protection mechanism to help understand why something happened so that we can keep ourselves safe in the future in similar situations,” McGraw says.

But what our brains intend to be a protective mechanism can actually lead to harmful psychological patterns – especially after trauma. “For example, I no longer trust anyone because they hurt me.”

Often this also points inward: “Survivors tend to blame themselves,” Freitag says. “They tend to tell themselves that they should have seen the violations coming, and they overestimate the control they had in the moment after they happened.”

hindsight bias in particular common among survivors of child abuse or survivors of sexual trauma. “It’s because in these situations, survivors usually get abused by people close to them, usually family members,” she says. “And they overestimate their ability to stand up to abuse when in fact it’s really hard.”

Importantly, this bias can hinder recovery from the traumatic event and may contribute to the development of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Because it often creates a so-called breakpoint.

“It may lead to self-blame when we actually need self-compassion.”

How hindsight bias affects future decision making

Not only can hindsight bias change the way you look at past decisions, it can also lead to poor decisions in the future.

“If we only rely on what we already know or believe, we lose a lot of key information,” Freitag says.

For example, the search shows that More biased investment bankers tend to underperform across sites and experiences.

Hindsight bias can also lower your self-esteem by directing you to blame yourself for not making a better decision. This can lead to a harsh internal dialogue that results in severe stress. It can also affect our relationships with others by causing an external conflict of misplaced blame and shame.

Freitag warns that any type of person can be subject to this kind of potentially dangerous bias regardless of their intelligence or profession.

“This is a fundamental bias of human nature,” she says. “It has more to do with the fact that humans tend to overestimate their ability to control most of it beyond their control in life.”

And this bias may lead you away from information that goes against what you think will actually happen.

Informed takeaway

Hindsight bias is one of the various cognitive biases that you may or may not know even when you make decisions every day.

This leads you to believe that you could or should have known the outcome of an event after the fact, which could lead you to blame yourself, affect your mental health, and create obstacles to recovery from trauma.

Recognizing your own biases in hindsight can help you heal, reduce feelings of shame and blame, and align future choices with objective facts.

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