“Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.” Billy Wilder
TASK AT HAND: This week I’m thinking about hindsight bias. In my opinion, this is one of the more comical fallacies for the degree of rationalization and inaccuracy inherent in its fabric. The hindsight bias, also known as the “knew it all along” effect, occurs when after an event has happened, we purport that we correctly predicted the outcome. However, the fallacy exists because there is no objective evidence for us having predicted the event.
Hindsight bias, commonly referred to as creeping determinism, is the basis for that feeling we get, “I knew it all long…”. For example, a patient presents with loss of vision and the eye physician diagnoses a retinal detachment. In summary, the doctor concludes, “I knew it! I had a feeling it was a retinal detachment”. Or take last year’s dramatic Super Bowl comeback win by the New England Patriots over the Atlanta Falcons. In various debriefs, you heard fans, players and commentators alike with phrases like: “I knew we were going to come back and win” or “I knew we could do it”. In reality, there was no way possible to predict this. Sports and medical diagnoses are areas where the hindsight bias has been extensively studied. You can find a nice summary here by Neal J. Roese of Northwestern University. Hindsight bias is a decision trap because it falsely supports our ability to predict events that cannot be predicted.
In an excellent commentary, from the September 2012 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, psychological scientists Neal Roese and Kathleen Vohs (you can find the article here) show that we bias and selectively recall information that confirms what we know to be true; then, we synthesize a narrative to describe this truth. If our brain has an easy time creating this narrative, then we interpret it to mean that the outcome must have been predictable and we identify with having correctly predicted it.
How does hindsight bias hurt us?
Hindsight bias is troublesome because it limits our ability for introspection. We all have a need for closure and a strong innate desire to make sense of events. Whether they be close relationships, world politics or natural disasters, we strongly want to establish some order and cause to events. This benefits our view of ourselves and the world. However, much – if not everything – lacks any sense or logic. Randomness runs rampant! Hindsight bias limits our ability to learn from events because, if we feel we correctly predicted them, then it follows that we must be in tune with the decision-making process – which is untrue if this fallacy is present. Contrastingly, with honesty, as witnesses to our errors and miscalculations, we gain valuable insight and maturity in how we come to terms with external stimuli.
MEDICINE & MACULA: I was in Barcelona, Spain this week for the EURETINA 2017 Congress.
On Friday (8 September 2017), I presented a talk on our recent findings and techniques for proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR). My talk, Predictive factors for proliferative vitreoretinopathy formation after uncomplicated primary retinal detachment repair (David RP Almeida, Kunyong Xu, Eric K Chin & D Wilkin Parke III) looked at predictive tools for patients who develop this complex condition.
Many thanks for all the interest and international support!
GRATIS: “You can’t operate by hindsight.” -Max Baucus
My best to you,