Cognitive Processing

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 63–72 | Cite as

Hindsight bias and causal reasoning: a minimalist approach

  • Jennelle E. YopchickEmail author
  • Nancy S. KimEmail author
Research Report


What factors contribute to hindsight bias, the phenomenon whereby the known outcome of an event appears obvious only after the fact? The Causal Model Theory (CMT) of hindsight bias (Nestler et al. in Soc Psychol 39:182–188, 2008a; in J Expl Psychol: Learn Mem Cog 34:1043–1054, 2008b; Pezzo in Mem 11:421–441, 2003; Wasserman et al. in Pers Soc Psychol Bull 17:30–35, 1991) posits that hindsight bias can occur when people have the opportunity to identify potential causal antecedents and evaluate whether they could have led to the outcome. Two experiments incorporating highly controlled minimalist scenarios supported the CMT. As predicted by the CMT, hindsight bias occurred when the causal factor explained the actual outcome better than the alternative outcome, and reverse hindsight bias occurred when the causal factor explained the alternative outcome better than the actual outcome. Moreover, we found new evidence that outcome knowledge alone was insufficient to elicit hindsight bias in the absence of a potential causal antecedent. Implications for future directions in hindsight bias research are discussed.


Hindsight bias Causal reasoning Judgments 



We thank Baruch Fischhoff and Reid Hastie for sharing their materials with us to adapt for use in this project, Woo-kyoung Ahn, John Coley, Rachel Litwin, Joanne Miller, Benjamin Rottman, and Brianna Sullivan for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript, and Shradha Khadge, Amanda Civiletto, Daniel Paulus, Daniel Noonan, Megan Alpert, and Anna Tang for help with data collection. This research was presented at the 2010 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Las Vegas, NV. Support for this project came from National Institute of Mental Health Grants MH084047 and MH081291 to Nancy S. Kim. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Supplementary material

10339_2011_414_MOESM1_ESM.docx (121 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 120 kb)


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology—125 NINortheastern UniversityBostonUSA

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