Very often when people learn something new, they assume that they knew it all along. This way of thinking is called the hindsight bias.
Participants receive one of two proverbs that contradict each other. Later, they are asked to come up with examples and explanations to prove that the proverb that they received presents an obvious truth.
To demonstrate how hindsight bias works.
- Minimum: 2
- Maximum: Any number
- Best: 10 to 30
- 3 minutes for the activity
- 3 minutes for the debriefing
- Proverb cards, one card for each player (see Preparation section below)
- Countdown tim er
Prepare proverb cards. Select a pair of proverbs that contradict each other. Here are some examples:
- Look before you leap. He who hesitates is lost.
- Hitch your wagon to a star. Don't bite off more than you can chew.
- A stitch in time saves nine. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Birds of a feather flock together. Opposites attr act.
Write one of the selected proverbs on a card and write the opposing proverb on another card. Repeat this process, alternating between the two proverbs, until you have enough cards to give one to each participant.
Distribute proverb cards. Give one card to each participant. Make sure that equal numbers of participants receive one of the two proverbs that contradict each other.
Explain the task. Ask each participant to read the proverb on his or her card and think of examples and explanations that would support the proverb. Announce a 2-minute time limit for this independent activity.
Ask participants to present their thoughts. At the end of 2 minutes, blow the whistle. Read one of the two proverbs and invite any participant to present suitable examples and explanations to prove that the proverb contains an obvious piece of truth.
Repeat the process with the opposing proverb. Read the other proverb. As before, ask a volunteer to share examples and explanations in support of this proverb.
Ask for more examples. Invite the participants to present more examples and explanations in support of either proverb.
Point out that the two proverbs contradict each other. Explain that logical thinking would lead us to believe that both of them cannot be valid at the same time.
Explain hindsight bias. Suggest that once we accept a principle we feel that we know it all along.
Discuss situational validity. Present this statement from Niels Bohr: The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. Discuss how it is possible for two contradictory principles to be valid under different contexts.
Invite more examples. Ask the participants to share other pairs of proverbs that contradict each other.
- When people learn or accept a statement, they have no difficulty coming up with supporting evidence.
- The opposite of a profound truth can also be another profound truth. We need to have an open mind to accept both perspectives.