Hindsight Bias – A to Z Challenge, Literary Terms

HComing about the middle of the week 2, and so far everyone is enjoying this. This is why I go the extra mile, to entertain and educate. But also show you what I see when I learn about these things. Many of these articles are tools to help others in different fields, to explain how the world works. I however am using how the world works and helping writers make a better interpretation of it to write more realistic places and people.

Today we discuss Hindsight Bias.

Hindsight Bias is the inclination that after an event has occurred, the outcome seemed to have been predictable, despite there being little to no objective basis for predicting it. This is better known as ‘knew-it-all-along effect‘.

This is a phenomenon that is more than just protecting ones ego and the need to always be right, it can have an impact on research and studies that require experimentation, and may hinder accuracy. Examples of a hindsight bias having an effect on an outcome or conclusion include: historical re-telling of an event, doctors recalling clinical trials, and even judicial systems trying to determine responsibilities of an accident.

Hindsight bias is a tendency to change an original thought to something different because of new information is provided. After an event has happened and the results are revealed, a person may be convinced that they predicted that would happen, but didn’t say anything. Sometimes comes in a form of “I knew that would happen” even if they said something else would happen; whether as a denial, or simple ignorance that they predicted something else.

However, the outcome being favorable or not isn’t the only occurrence of Hindsight Bias. It can also be present in the outcome of severity. This is seen in malpractice suits, that rather than base the verdict of the suit for a doctor’s care, it is often determined by negative outcome of the doctor’s care. Whether you agree with this or not, it is a form of hindsight bias, that a medical professional should have foreseen this outcome, even if they did everything they could to prevent it.

Personality has an impact on Hindsight Bias. Most of us don’t want to be wrong. In our society, being wrong is a sign of weakness. People can lose jobs for being wrong, our opinion of a person may depend on their accuracy of an event. To this effect, it can come down to a Self-Serving bias to either believe or lie about the outcome of an event to protect ourselves from weakness.

Age is another factor, studies have demonstrated that hindsight bias affects children as well as adults. In both adults and children, they share a tendency to be biased on their own knowledge when attempting to recall a naïve cognitive state.

It has been found that hindsight bias is seen more in preschool aged children, which decreases as a child gets older into adulthood, then increases as an adult gets older. Young children exhibit Hindsight bias by confusing their original answer with new information, not really understanding what was being asked of them, or simply replacing the new information with their original conclusion with no concept of mind to see that.

Older adults exhibit hindsight bias by forgetting their original answers and using new information to reconstruct their initial viewpoint. Not having full access to verbatim memory of the event, instead using Gist memory that has the answer and concluding that they must have known the answer. Of course, this determination happens on the subconscious layer of our mind.

Despite the differences older children and adults, when compared to young children and older adults, all subjects did indicate to knowing more information they actually did, after the fact.

There are a few cognitive models to to try to explain the need for people to change the foundation of knowledge and belief after receiving new information. One of them is called SARA (Selective Activation and Reconstructive Anchoring).

SARA model explains Hindsight Bias for descriptive information in memory and hypothetical situations. Based on my article of Confabulation, it appears that the mind has a set limit of images. Gist memory tends to be a summary of information, to which most people use to recall information. The mind uses Gist memory and and fills in the blanks, as the brain dislikes incomplete information, and will even alter information with new information when being recalled. This is a basic explanation. To understand this further, we have to go into memory anchoring, which we won’t go into today.

Hindsight bias has an effect on eyewitness testimony the same way our mind builds False Memories of an event. Both can distort the memory. Hindsight bias is about taking new information and applying it to initial conclusions, which can lead to fabricating events that never happened, leading to false memories (confabulation).

It should be noted that people not wanting to take responsibility after an event and changing facts is not a form of hindsight bias, rather a defensive processing. This is about playing ignorant to an event, on purpose.

Helping Writers

In protecting our need to be right, our minds are working around the clock. It’s almost like 1984 that the government (our minds) can’t be wrong and will go back to change the prediction that chocolate won’t go any higher than 84 cents a pound to any higher than 86 cents. Because in the end, being wrong is the worst thing you can be.

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Perhaps this is a cultural effect or even a biological effect. Whatever it is, our minds are capable of changing our perceptions of an event so that we believe that we knew something beforehand after an event has occurred.

An example of this is hearing a suggestion someone made and taking that as one you created yourself. A good example of that is in interactive comic related to the film, Megamind

Minion: Sir! You- You listened to me?
Megamind: No… Something you said just happened to make me take action on a plan of my own. Which bore a similarity to your suggestion, but was entirely of my own making.

Another great example of this is the movie The Lion King. Pumbaa has a great idea, which is dismissed by Timon immediately, to which Timon thinks up the idea, almost as he’s come to the conclusion himself, but likely took Pumbaa’s idea and replaced it as his own subconsciously.

Your characters will strive to be right. Who likes being wrong about anything? People will base their lives on the concept they are rarely wrong, though some will go the extra length that they are still right with the evidence they are wrong. More than that though, they will change their perception to match reality. Sometimes it is done on purpose, in fear of appearing weak or the fear of responsibility. However, it is sometimes beyond our direct control this happens, and a character may simply believe they were right the whole time, even when the reader can see they weren’t.

Writing this will be a challenge, as the reader will know they were wrong and the reader may believe the character is in denial. Maybe the character is, or an explanation is needed that they honestly believe they were right when in truth, they were actually wrong. Good character development prior to this can help the reader understand this isn’t malicious, rather it is just human nature we do this.

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