Hindsight failure

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Visualization of the hindsight error (component of memory distortion, in memory design) using the example of an election prognosis.

Hindsight Bias ( English hindsight bias ) referred to in the cognitive psychology , the cognitive bias to tend after an event has occurred, to overestimate the predictability of this event. In some cases, estimates made before the event are later distorted in the memory in the direction of the actual results.


The effect leads to the fact that after an (important) event people are no longer able to judge the circumstances and reasons that led to the event as they would or have done before the event became known. In retrospect, they systematically overestimate the possibility that the event could have been foreseen. A common explanation for this is that knowing the event changes the interpretation and evaluation of all related facts and thus shifts the entire cognitive "coordinate system" in the direction of its occurrence.

Example: A youth welfare office had a “suspicious” family under observation for years, all technical rules and regulations were strictly followed, formally nothing was missed. It is now known that the family has let a child starve to death. In the context of the public outrage, the question immediately arises how such an act was possible despite the observation by the office. It is precisely here that not only laypeople, but also experts in the respective field are subject to the hindsight error, in that they re-examine previously existing information under the influence of the event and thereby come to an overestimation of the predictability of the event.

The hindsight error plays a role, particularly when assigning guilt and responsibility in many social, but also in private areas. For example, it has been shown that people who were raped retrospectively accused them of having contributed to their behavior. It is also important to realize that factual expertise cannot compensate for this influence.

The phenomenon of hindsight was first investigated in 1975 by Baruch Fischhoff (* 1946) at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh .

To facilitate measurement, test arrangements are used (operationalizations) in which quantitative (numerical) recording is possible by estimating measured variables (e.g. election results).


A few years ago, Blank and colleagues pointed out that the review error consists of three different components, which can occur independently of one another. This includes:

  1. the subsequently increased impression of inevitability
  2. the subsequently increased impression of predictability
  3. Memory distortions (see diagram)

Thus, for example, an event can be perceived in retrospect as both inevitable and less predictable than in the preview.

Investigation Designs

A distinction is made between two research designs, the “memory design” and the “hypothetical design”.

The intra-individual "memory design"

Before an election, a person should make a prognosis for the probability of party X winning the election; she mentions, for example, 30 percent. After the election, the person is informed that the party actually received 50% of the vote. Now ask the person to remember their original estimate. Even though 30% was estimated, the person believes they guessed 40%. The difference to their original forecast is known as the hindsight error. In the study “ Hindsight bias in political elections ” by Blank, H., Fischer, V. & Erdfelder, E. (2003), a robust hindsight error effect was found. The authors used a memory design and chose a time interval of four months. In contrast, in many previous studies, the time lag between predicting the election outcome and remembering the prediction was very small, so the results were not very meaningful.

The inter-individual "hypothetical design"

Before making an election, ask a group of people for a forecast. After the election, a second group of people will be asked what outcome they had forecast. The difference between the two results usually reflects a hindsight error.

Practical implications

Review errors were also found in various expert groups (e.g. doctors, judges). The hindsight error is particularly important in case law, since an ex ante assessment is necessary for the assessment of negligence, the subsequent admissibility of investigative measures, but also the patentability of an invention, but later information (e.g. about damage that has occurred) , the result of investigative measures, the invention submitted for patent) are already known to the judges.

A study shows that the review error also occurs in Wikipedia articles : In a study, different versions of Wikipedia articles (before and after an event occurred) were compared with one another. In only one category of events - catastrophes - it was found that later versions of the article suggested more strongly that this catastrophe should have happened. It should be noted that the articles that were examined for this event category did not even focus on the disaster itself, but existed before the disaster occurred (e.g. the article about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant or the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne ). However, no hindsight error was found in articles about other types of events (e.g., elections, scientific discoveries, sporting events). In addition, an indirect comparison in the context of the state elections in Baden-Württemberg showed that Wikipedia articles (about elections) are actually less prone to hindsight errors than individuals. As possible reasons for this, the authors cite Wikipedia's rules on the one hand and the immediate availability of information from the preview perspective on the other.

See also


  • H. Blank, V. Fischer, & Erdfelder, E. (2003). Hindsight bias in political elections. Memory, 11 (4-5), 491-504.
  • H. Blank, J. Musch, & Pohl, RF (Eds.). (2007). The hindsight bias [special issue]. Social Cognition, 25 (1).
  • A. Bradfield & Wells, GL (2005). Not the same old hindsight bias: Outcome information distorts a broad range of retrospective judgments. Memory & Cognition 33 , 120–130
  • U. Hoffrage & RF Pohl (eds.). (2003). Hindsight bias [special issue]. Memory, 11 (4-5).
  • Pohl, RF (2004). Hindsight bias. In RF Pohl (ed.): Cognitive illusions: A handbook on fallacies and biases in thinking, judgment and memory (pp. 363–378). Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

Individual evidence

  1. Linda L. Carli: Cognitive Reconstruction, Hindsight, and Reactions to Victims and Perpetrators . In: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin . tape 25 , no. 8 , June 25, 2016, p. 966-979 , doi : 10.1177 / 01461672992511005 ( sagepub.com [accessed May 24, 2017]).
  2. as fish Hoff: Hindsight foresight: the effect of outcome knowledge on judgment under uncertainty . In: Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance . tape 1 , no. 3 , 1975, p. 288–299 ( PDF , reprinted in Quality and Safety in Health Care ).
  3. ^ Baruch Fischhoff, Ruth Beyth: "I knew it would happen" . Remembered Probabilities of Once-Future Things. In: Organizational Behavior and Human Performance . tape 13 , no. 1 , 1975, p. 1–16 , doi : 10.1016 / 0030-5073 (75) 90002-1 ( PDF ).
  4. Hartmut Blank, Steffen Nestler, Gernot von Collani, Volkhard Fischer: How many hindsight biases are there? In: Cognition . tape 106 , no. 3 , March 2008, p. 1408–1440 , doi : 10.1016 / j.cognition.2007.07.007 ( elsevier.com [accessed July 19, 2019]).
  5. Hartmut Blank, Steffen Nestler: Perceiving events as both inevitable and unforeseeable in hindsight: The Leipzig candidacy for the Olympics . In: British Journal of Social Psychology . tape 45 , no. 1 , March 2006, p. 149-160 , doi : 10.1348 / 014466605X52326 ( wiley.com [accessed July 19, 2019]).
  6. Hal R. Arkes, Robert L. Wortmann, Paul D. Saville, Allan R. Harkness: Hindsight bias among physicians weighing the likelihood of diagnoses. In: Journal of Applied Psychology . tape 66 , no. 2 , 1981, ISSN  1939-1854 , pp. 252-254 , doi : 10.1037 / 0021-9010.66.2.252 ( apa.org [accessed July 1, 2019]).
  7. Aileen Oeberst, Ingke Goeckenjan: When being wise after the event results in injustice: Evidence for hindsight bias in judges' negligence assessments. In: Psychology, Public Policy, and Law . tape 22 , no. 3 , 2016, ISSN  1939-1528 , p. 271–279 , doi : 10.1037 / law0000091 ( apa.org [accessed July 1, 2019]).
  8. Megan E. Giroux, Patricia I. Coburn, Erin M. Harley, Deborah A. Connolly, Daniel M. Bernstein: Hindsight Bias and Law . In: Journal of Psychology . tape 224 , no. 3 , July 2016, ISSN  2190-8370 , p. 190–203 , doi : 10.1027 / 2151-2604 / a000253 ( hogrefe.com [accessed July 1, 2019]).
  9. Aileen Oeberst, Ina von der Beck, Mitja D. Back, Ulrike Cress, Steffen Nestler: Biases in the production and reception of collective knowledge: the case of hindsight bias in Wikipedia . In: Psychological Research . April 17, 2017, ISSN  0340-0727 , p. 1–17 , doi : 10.1007 / s00426-017-0865-7 ( springer.com [accessed May 24, 2017]).
  10. Aileen Oeberst, Ina von der Beck, Ulrike Cress, Steffen Nestler: Wikipedia outperforms individuals when it comes to hindsight bias . In: Psychological Research . March 20, 2019, ISSN  0340-0727 , doi : 10.1007 / s00426-019-01165-7 ( springer.com [accessed June 21, 2019]).