You are studying a chapter from a book. You read it once and feel, “This is so obvious and simple. I am going to nail this. Yay!!”. So now you take up a test on this chapter. The moment you see the first question, you go blank and you don’t know the answers to any of the questions.
Your friend comes to you and tells, “My girlfriend dumped me”, and you say, “I am so sorry for you” and think in your mind, “Oh I knew it. I knew she would ditch you..!”
Has any of this happened to you?
If it has, then you were experiencing the I-knew-it-all-along phenomenon, also termed as Hindsight Bias.
As the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard put it, “Life is lived forwards, but understood backwards”.
Psychologists say that in everyday life, we often do not expect something to happen until it does. Then we suddenly backtrack and see clearly the forces which caused the event to happen. Sometimes, these forces may be a product of our own stereotypes, prejudices, values and perceptions.
Once we get the cause, the result seems unsurprising so much so that we forget that the result was actually surprising when we did not know the cause.
You want more proof? Well, so did a group of psychologists who conducted an experiment to demonstrate the same.
They divided students from a University into two groups. Both groups were given proverbs and were asked to provide an explanation as to what they thought about it.
The first group was told,
Social psychologists have found that, whether choosing friends or falling in love, we are most attracted to people whose traits are different from our own. There seems to be wisdom in the old saying “Opposites attract.”
The second group was told,
Social psychologists have found that, whether choosing friends or falling in love, we are most attracted to people whose traits are similar to our own. There seems to be wisdom in the old saying “Birds of a feather flock together.”
It was seen that both the groups found equally good explanations and found it “unsurprising” and “obvious”.
Still don’t believe it? Well, neither did I. I mean come-on both proverbs hold good depending on the situation right? In the beginning of the article, I have quoted what a Danish philosopher once said. I gave a glance (thought I remembered it) and tried to type it here, but I had to go back to look at the quote thrice before I could type the entire thing here..!
If hindsight bias is pervasive, you may now be feeling that you already knew about this phenomenon and just did not know that it was called so 😀