Hindsight bias, also known as the knew-it-all-along effect or creeping determinism, is the inclination, after an event has occurred, to see the event as having been predictable, despite there having been little or no objective basis for predicting it.

Abstract

Traditional accounts of “hindsight bias” inadequately distinguish “primary” hindsight bias from both “secondary” and “tertiary” hindsight bias. A subject exhibits primary bias when she assigns a higher ex ante probability estimate to actual outcomes, secondary bias when she believes that she herself would have made the same estimate of the prior probability of an event before receiving outcome information as she made after receiving it, and tertiary bias when she believes that third parties lacking outcome information were unreasonable if they did not make the same prior probability judgments that subjects now possessing such information make.

In our experiments, we find that when people can readily calculate the actual ex ante probability of an outcome, they don’t reassess that probability when told what outcomes actually occurred. They reassess only in situations in which they are unable to assess prior probabilities or when given information that the outcome was not simply a result of sampling or chance but the result of an imperceptible feature of the initial situation. Observed primary bias may therefore often be rational.

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