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 😀

Signing off…


Fun with norms

Right from the time you are born, you are governed by rules. As a school going child, you are told to prepare notes. As a college student, you have to attend classes and maintain your attendance. As an employee, you are to be in office for fixed hours.

Now tell me who has told you to eat the food on your plate with a spoon when you go to hotels? Who has told you not to sit next to a stranger in a bus even when there are other empty seats in the bus? Why do you look around before you try to scratch your back in public? Why do you find it odd to yawn with your mouth wide open in an interesting seminar? Have you tried to enter a lift and face your back to the door?

Psychologists have termed these as Social Norms. These are a set of beliefs held by a group of people about how the members should behave in a given social context.

I tried breaking one such norm and tried to record reactions.


I went to a store to buy a few hair clips. He showed me black colored clips. I asked him, “Do you have different colored ones?” He replied, “Of course madam..!” and started bringing out boxes of colored clips. 

I started looking at them and thought out loud(yes, I mean loud in the literal sense). I picked up the pink clip and said, “Hmm, this can go with my pink shirt…” By then, the shopkeeper had an anxious face and was about to keep it aside to pack. Suddenly, I said, “Oh no it has blue patterns with it…also, its a lighter shade of pink.” I dropped this and picked a red one. 

Yeah baby, blood red. This color always suits me and it looks so cute..!” The shopkeeper was happy and moved his hand forward to pick the red one for packing. I stopped him saying, “Wait! I cannot wear it with any other dress. It would be a waste.” His face was as though he had just missed coming very close to winning a trophy.

I continued giving a free peek into my thoughts over colors green, yellow, orange, silver and gold. The shopkeeper’s face was red by now. In the meanwhile, I was feeling very awkward thinking out loud and I was trying to “talk” myself out of it. I was thinking what the shopkeeper might think about me. He might be very wild with me and might think I am a complete dumbo..!!

After a marinated cocktail of feelings within me and a variety of reactions from the shopkeeper, I decided to stay with two black hair clips. The shopkeeper was relieved the free show was over and started packing. Little did he know that this was his unlucky day.

He told me that the total amount payable was fifty rupees. I pulled out a coin purse and poured the coins onto the table. All of them were one and two rupee coins. I started counting them out loud beginning from one. (I felt and looked like a complete idiot. I wanted to stop the counting and apologize to him. I even felt like laughing at how I was trying to make a fool out of myself)

The shopkeeper had entirely different thoughts going on. He just stared at me with an expression that said, “Oh common..!!! Are you serious?? What on earth is wrong with you??”

By the time I reached the count of 30, the shopkeeper was clearly and evidently irritated. He stopped me and said, “Madam, let me count it for you..!” He grouped the coins into five per group and finally made it a half century.

Victorious and relieved, he made the bill and was too glad to send me off.

Try breaking one and see for yourself.

The Silent Spectator

How many of you have witnessed an accident on the road right in front of your eyes and just moved on? How many of you have peeped into your neighbor’s book in class when you don’t catch a dictated word? While travelling in a bus, how many of you sit in your seat & wait for someone else to get up and give a seat to an old woman who is just aboard?

Well, if you have done any of these things above, you are not the only one my friend. The entire human race is just like you. Read on..

Some students were invited to a lab under the pretext that they were taking part in a discussion about personal problems. They were talking to many unknown people (each with 1 to 4 individuals).

Since the nature of the discussion was sensitive, they were told that the discussion will take place over intercom.

During the discussion, one of the members of the group (to which the participant was talking) suddenly appeared to have an epileptic seizure. They started choking for some duration of time and then there was silence at the other end.


The experimenters observed that some participants made no move to intervene. Also, the more the the number of people in the group, the slower the participant reacted to the situation.

So what is this that makes us not care for the other person? Are we so ignorant? Are we so selfish?

 Psychologists call this as Bystander effect.

One of the first steps in anyone’s decision to help another is the recognition that someone is actually in need of help. Many of us may fail to recognize the emergency of the situation. For example, imagine you are at a swimming pool and you see a child struggling in the water. What would you do? You would first look around to see if anyone else also feels the same as you do. If no one is reacting, you may just conclude that the child might just be playing in the water. Psychologists call this pluralistic ignorance

Lets say we are not like them and we do recognize emergencies. Then, what do we do? Most of us just wait for someone else to take some action while we just watch what happens. This is called Diffusion of responsibility.

Its human nature to play safe and ensure that we don’t fall for unnecessary trouble. So is it right on your part to just stand and watch a child drown in the water when you know you can save the child? Is it ok to watch someone bleed to death from an accident in front of you and go into a shock later due to witnessing the event?

Thats for you to decide, now that you know the “someone else” who was supposed to help out the sufferer may never exist.

Signing off….

How obedient are we?

This is for all the “last-benchers”, “class-bunkers” and all those who think they have disobeyed someone at some point of their life.

I came across an article in which an experiment was conducted to show how social situations can affect the way we behave. Read on. 

While reading the Sunday newspaper, Bill notices that a prestigious university is recruiting people to participate in a psychological study designed to help people improve their memory. He decides to volunteer for the experiment as he thinks it is interesting and he will also get paid a fee.

On his arrival at the university’s laboratory, Bill is greeted by the researcher and introduced to a second applicant named Douglas. The experimenter explains that the research study will test a new method of improving people’s learning and memoryby punishing them for their errors.

The task is straightforward: Bill will play the role of the “Teacher” and give Douglas, the “Learner,” a set of word pairings to memorize in a given time period. Every time that the Learner provides the correct answer, the Teacher gives him a verbal reward, “Good” or “That’s right.”When wrong, the Teacher is to press a lever on the impressive looking shock apparatus that delivers an immediate shock to punish the error.

The shock generator has 30 switches, starting from a low level of only 15 V and increasing in intensity all the way up to 450 V. The control panel indicates both the voltage level of each of the switches and a corresponding description of that level. For instance, the 25th level (375 V) is labeled “Danger, Severe Shock.” The experimenter goes on to note that every time the Learner makes a mistake, the Teacher must press the next higher level voltage switch.

The Learner is escorted into an adjacent room, where his arms are strapped down and an electrode is attached to his right wrist. The shock generator in the next room will deliver the shocks to the Learner—if and when he makes any errors. Doug mentions that he has a slight heart condition and hopes the shocks will not hurt him much.

He is reassured not to worry, that the shocks may become strong but will not cause any permanent damage. Bill administers the test material and communicates over the intercom to Doug, while the Experimenter stands near him.

Initially, Doug performs well, getting rewarding praise from Bill. However, he soon starts making errors, for which Bill immediately starts pressing those shock switches. As Doug messes up more and more, the shock levels are going up, and he complains that the shocks are starting to hurt.

At 75 V, he moans and groans; at 150 V, the tenth level, Doug (Learner) has had enough and demands to be released from the experiment. Bill looks anxiously at the Experimenter, who nods that he must continue.

As the shock levels increase in intensity, so do the Learner’s screams, as well as his reminder that he has a heart condition. Bill is now really distressed: “Sir, who will be responsible if anything happens to that man?” The Experimenter dismisses his concern about personal responsibility by declaring, “I will be fully responsible, now continue your task, Teacher.

At 300 V, the Learner demands to be freed and complains louder about his heart condition. Bill has had enough, he verbally dissents,“I can’t continue to hurt him, sir, I refuse to go on.” The Experimenter calmly insists that Bill must continue because he has a contract to complete the experimental procedure.

Reluctantly, Bill goes on punishing Doug for his errors until he reaches the level of 330V. Bill hears screams, a thud, and then silence from the shock chamber.“He is not responding; someone should go in there to see if he is all right.” But the Experimenter is impassive and tells Bill, “If the learner doesn’t answer in a reasonable time, about 5 seconds, consider it wrong.

Now, I will stop here and pose a few questions.

  1. At what shock level do you think Bill stopped the experiment?
  2. How do you think you would act if you were in place of Bill?
  3. At what shock level would you absolutely refuse to continue?

Okay, let me answer the first question for you.

Every two out of three people (500 participants) on whom this experiment was conducted went up to the maximum shock level 450 V !!! And Bill was one of the two.

You would have thought that most of them would have verbally dissented or just walked out of the room right? I mean who would sell out their morality for a few currency notes. Would you?

Thats the power of an authority over you. I would rather call it a social situation.

But remember that although there was a majority that obeyed fully, there was the other one of three people who refused to give in to unjust authority. So what makes people help others, serve the poor or even act heroically?

Welcome to Social psychology. I will share more as I learn more. Stay tuned.

Signing off…