Hindsight Bias

A hindsight bias in psychology is defined as a false belief that one should have known the outcome of an event. This occurs due to the constructive processes of memory in the brain. Once we know a piece of information, it’s impossible for us to imagine what it’s like not to know it. I experience this often, especially during tests in school.

During the test, I’ll rack my brain for the answer to a question, but find nothing. This may be due to retrieval problems I encounter, where I know I studied a piece of information and it is almost as if I can picture the answer in my head, but I cannot access the memory. I’ll eventually accept that I don’t know the particular answer, and guess, and move on.

After the test, I’ll be so curious as to what the correct answer was, I’ll rush to my book and my notes to look it up. I can usually recall the exact page where I read the information I needed, and the second I see the words, it all comes back to me. Reading over the information again, I feel incredibly stupid for not knowing the answer. All those memories that were, so to say, ‘at the tip of my tongue’, suddenly become solidified in my mind, and I can’t imagine not knowing the answer to that question in retrospect. If I ever received the same test question again, I feel confident that I would know the correct answer. However, the only reason I feel this way is because through paying closer attention to right information, I formed a better memory. I’m biased looking back at the test question, and I always feel like I should have been able to recall that memory.

I think the hindsight bias helps me in the long run. Obviously the information presented on exams is there for a reason: it’s important. By going back and re-studying the questions that stump me on the test, I form a more solid connection with the information in my brain. My memory of the answer improves, and once I learn it, I’ll never completely lose that information. This helps me become more knowledgeable overall. Though it’s frustrating to not be able to recall things on command all of the time, the hindsight bias allows me to remember more things for longer periods of time. It’s much harder to forget information that you, at one point, didn’t know , which cost you your perfect grade on a test, than information that came easily to your recalled memory. I seem to remember those things that I really have to work for more effectively than things that just come and go for a single exam.

-Brenna Mordan

6 thoughts on “Hindsight Bias

  1. Michael Grasso

    When we learned this in class i completely understood what the concept meant because this happens to me all the time. I can really relate to your example of test taking, however i am also curious as to whether this concept could be applied to less defined and more trivial experiences we have. SItuations such as when we open our cell phone to look at the time, or open our fridge to get a drink of orange juice but really just check Facebook, and grab some other food if anything at all-forgetting the time and OJ. This happens to me all the time and i dont realize hat i have forgotten to accomplish my original task until my phone is already back in my pocket or the fridge door is already closed. Just some food for thought i guess.

  2. Bianca Maria Dinardo

    I relate to this because this happens to me a lot on exams and in everyday life. I will look at the question, and I can remember studying that concept. I remember reading it and where it was on the page but I cannot remember the what I read so I usually guess. As soon as I walk out of that exam, I look it up and get frustrated with myself. This also happens to me when I am trying to tell a story or remember somebody’s name but am unable to do so. I think the “tip of the tongue” concept is more frustrating in school than it is in everyday life.

  3. Colleen Brennan

    This always happens to me in situations where I need to talk to people face to face. I know what I want to say when I ask a person a question, but then as soon as I ask them, I forget what exactly I wanted to say and try my best to come up with an impromptu explanation that sometimes doesn’t always make sense. It can be embarrassing.

  4. rak5317

    I can relate to this because the same thing happens to me. I’ll read a test question and know that I know what the answer is, except I can’t think of what that answer is. After seeing what the right answer is or look at my notes after the test, I get mad at myself because the answer seems like it should have been so obvious and I couldn’t think of it. This happens to one of my friends a lot too,

  5. Misha Armenia Demchuk

    This happens to me too sometimes during speeches! What I want to say next is usually “on the tip of my tongue” but I can’t find the words to say. Then, when looking at my note card I usually see the cue word and just like how rereading the information helps you, this word triggers my memory and I can finally stop saying “ummm” and get back to my speech!

  6. Melanie Paige Leftwich

    I can really relate to this because I am the same way. I hate after exams when you look up answers and think to yourself “I should’ve known that!” It is so easy to believe that there is no possible way we could not have known something. I get so mad at myself all the time for it, but I think it is something everyone does.

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