Can Causal Sense-Making Benefit Foresight, Rather than Biasing Hindsight?

Edward MunnichUniversity of San Francisco
Jennifer MilazzoUniversity of San Francisco
Jade StannardUniversity of San Francisco
Katherine RainfordUniversity of San Francisco

Abstract

Upon reading headlines like “Traffic Fatalities Increased/Decreased Last Year,” people often overestimate how well they would have anticipated changes. This hindsight bias has been linked to causal sensemaking that minimizes one’s feeling of surprise after learning an outcome. In this paper, we consider whether the sensemaking process, which contributes to bias in hindsight, could be recruited to our benefit in foresight. We found that 1. Foresight participants—who estimated fatality statistics and listed causal factors before learning true statistics—were more surprised than Hindsight participants—who listed causal factors only after learning true statistics. 2. To the extent that Foresight participants were successful in listing causal factors in the opposite of their expected direction, they showed improvement in a second set of estimates they made prior to learning the true statistics; however, this improvement did not correspond to decreased surprise when they learned true statistics. We discuss implications for contrast vs. uncertainty theories of surprise, and for the possibility of useful belief revision triggered by unexpected statistics and consideration of alternative causation.

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