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Hindsight Bias

Survivors of loss or trauma often think “If only …”. Hindsight bias is a cognitive bias / cognitive illusion which makes events seem more predictable after-the-fact than they seemed at the time. This information handout describes key components and effects of this cognitive bias.

Hindsight bias is a form of cognitive bias / cognitive distortion. Once a situation has occurred hindsight bias can make that event seem more obvious and predictable than was actually the case at the time. People may say “I knew it all along” or “why didn’t I do something differently?”. Hindsight bias can be particularly problematic following traumatic events – individuals may come to unfairly blame themselves for things that they did not predict (and could not have predicted) in advance and may feel particularly responsible or guilty as a consequence.

Overcoming hindsight bias requires reappraisal of a situation from the perspective of the individual at the time. Helpful questions to explore hindsight bias might include “given what you knew at the time what reason did you have to think that X might happen?”, “when did you start to feel guilty, and what information had you learned that led to you feeling that way?”. This worksheet pack addressing hindsight bias includes client handouts and key therapist questions.

This is a Psychology Tools information handout. Suggested uses include:

  • Client handout – use as a psychoeducation resource
  • Discussion point – use to provoke a discussion and explore client beliefs
  • Therapist learning tool – improve your familiarity with a psychological construct
  • Teaching resource – use as a learning tool during training
  • Kubany, E. S., & Manke, F. P. (1995). Cognitive therapy for trauma-related guilt: Conceptual bases and treatment outlines. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 2(1), 27-61,
  • Popiel, A. (2014). Cognitive therapy of trauma related guilt in patients with PTSD. Psychiatr. Pol, 48(3), 615-625.
  • Williams, C. W. (1993). Human response to traumatic events: An integration of counterfactual thinking, hindsight bias, and attribution theory. Psychological reports, 72(2), 483-494.

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