Hindsight Bias

Neologism, jargon: n. the tendency to view events which have already occurred as more predictable than they truly are. Also known as the “knew-it-all-along” effect

 

Etymology:

  • Compound formed by the combination of “hindsight” and “bias”, separated by a space
  • The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines “hindsight” as seeing what has happened after an event has occured; perception gained by looking backward
    • The word was likely first derived as an opposite to the term “foresight” by combining “hind” and “sight”
    • “Hind” refers to the back of something and comes from the Gothic preposition “hindana”  (on that side of, beyond, behind), the Old High German adverb “hintana” (behind), and the Middle English prepositions bi-hinden and bi-hinde
    • “Sight” refers to a thing that is seen, especially of a striking nature, and comes from the Middle Dutch sicht and zicht, the Middle Low German sichte,  and the Old High German siht

 

Sociolectal Information:

The term “hindsight bias” is primarily used by professionals and students in the field of psychology. The word experienced a period of increased popularity and mainstream usage in 2012, when Neal Roese and Kathleen Vohs published an article in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science which was the first article to synthesize research on and examples of hindsight bias across different disciplines. Around this time, several articles on hindsight bias were published on both psychology websites and popular news sites. In recent years, the inclusion of the term in the Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology curriculum has increased the word’s use among high school students as AP Psychology is a popular elective class at many schools.

Examples of this phenomenon can be observed in a variety of situations from political elections to medical diagnoses to business mergers, in cases which people claim to have predicted certain events when in fact there was little evidence that could have led them to guess the outcome of a situation ahead of time. The Investopedia website even includes this term in its online dictionary, in reference to the phenomenon as it pertains to investing. Hindsight bias is studied in the field of behavioral economics. Thus, economists may also be users of this term.

 

Survival Predictions:

“Hindsight bias” will probably at the very least maintain its current level of popularity since there are numerous published psychological studies which support the existence of this effect/tendency. Additionally, the recent inclusion of the term in the high school AP Psychology curriculum may lead to the word gaining a more prominent position in the mainstream American English lexicon as more schools begin to offer AP courses and as more students choose to take AP courses. Despite this, though, the word may still be limited in its usage because its meaning is not easily inferred in conversation– in this case, other terms with the same meaning, such as “knew-it-all-along effect” may eclipse “hindsight bias” in popular usage.

 

Lexopinions:

I think this word is useful in that it describes a phenomenon that many people observe but lack a word for. I could see myself using this term to call out friends who try to claim that they predicted certain events– for example, if a friend said “Oh, I knew that Donald Trump was going to be a serious candidate”, I might respond by saying, “Don’t you think that’s just hindsight bias talking?”. Additionally, I’m curious if knowledge of this term/phenomenon will lead to a decrease in its effects; if I know that hindsight bias exists, I feel as though I’d be slower to claim that I predicted a big event.

 

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