Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hindsight Bias: The I-Knew-It-Along Phenomenon

Psychology is a study of human behavior. People often think that it is all common sense. After all, who would have the best knowledge about human behavior other than human beings themselves? When I read online articles about psychological researches or studies, I always see comments of readers stating that those are a waste of time, and that the results are very obvious. Well, although I sometimes feel that way too, but psychology isn't about common sense. It is about understanding people the scientific approach. For instance, if a study reveals that people tend to marry those who are opposite to their personalities, confirming the cliche "opposites attract." People would think, "Ah! I knew it all along. It was very obvious." What if the study reveals otherwise, instead it proves that people tend to marry same-minded partners, confirming the saying about "birds of the same feather flock together?" Then people would jump to this belief, stating that it was what they knew all along.

So often in psychology, a study would reveal A, then people would believe that that's what they knew all along. On the other hand, they forgot about the possibility of B. And if another study showed B, that's what they would think is obvious all along. Psychological research proves possibilities objectively. If one thing has two possibilities: A or B, the researchers would find which really is the case by following the scientific procedure.

Not only in psychology this bias is very common, but also in business or political matters. Say, after Mr. X was elected, a number of speculators would often come out of light, stating that that was what they predicted. People always have this tendency to exaggerate their ability to predict an outcome.

It was indeed my pet peeve to hear a friend say after the fact that, "I knew it would just happen." In fact, when we stop overestimating our power of predicting outcomes, we tend to become more logical and conscientious. Hindsight bias is inevitable in our everyday lives, it is as natural as breathing. Yet, being aware of this phenomenon helps us see much clearer and do what's right.
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