Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Experiment-Based Knew-It-All-Along Effect in the Qualitative Light of Narrativity

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Experiment-Based Knew-It-All-Along Effect in the Qualitative Light of Narrativity

Article excerpt

The phenomenon whereby one overestimates the probability of a particular event after one has learnt about it has been explored quantitatively for over three decades since Baruch Fischhoff (1975) started looking into it. Known as the hindsight bias or knew-it-all-along effect, it was found in miscellaneous settings, including political, business, military and health-care spheres (Christensen-Szalanski & Willham, 1991). It appears that even deliberate attempts to suppress it could ironically magnify its occurrence (Sanna, Schwarz, & Stocker, 2002) and that the difference between the hindsight effect in specialists and laymen is rather small (Guilbault, Bryant, Brockway, & Posavac, 2004).

The current understanding of this effect assumes that consecutive events are linked up causally via processes of cognitive reconstruction. According to this approach, the information subjectively validating a particular ending is given prominence and the data inconsistent with it is marginalized (Harley, Carlsen, & Loftus, 2004; Hawkins & Hastie, 1990). This creates an illusion known as creeping determinism whereby a particular course of the past seems to have been inexorable, leading one to overestimate the likelihood of its occurrence (Hawkins & Hastie; Wasserman, Lempert, & Hestie, 1991). It also appears that the processes underlying creeping determinism are effortful and that causal reasoning plays a big part in the perception of past events (Nestler, Blank, & von Collani, 2008). Recently, it was even proposed that the hindsight effect is not a unitary phenomenon and comprises three partially independent components: memory distortions, impressions of forseeability and impressions of necessity (Blank, Nestler, von Collani, & Fischer, 2008).

The overwhelming majority of research on the hindsight effect, using cognitive and motivational models (Blank, Musch, & Pohl, 2007) (1), has been done by exploring probability assessment as a practice of writing down particular percentage figures on paper questionnaires without allowing participants to speak freely and ignoring their verbal accounts. It was already found, however, that remembering and reasoning do not have to be based on any alleged factuality and may serve a number of different functions, like appealing to one's personal interests or undermining other people's competing accounts (Edwards, 1997; Edwards & Potter, 1992b). Thus, although people's descriptions of their hindsight judgments, their meanings and inferences might be determined indexically, they have not been explored linguistically in any detail.

Given the "war of the worlds" between quantitative and qualitative methodologies and the fundamentally different theoretical orientations they entail, it might be fair to ask which side I stand on. Finding merit in both of them, I strive to adopt various methods to different research problems. When investigating how historians and non-historians are susceptible to the hindsight effect (no major differences were found), me and my colleagues employed a quantitative method as it appeared to be most adequate to our objective (Dymkowski, Domin, Marszalek, & Palasinski, 2007). Having been originally trained mainly in quantitative methods and only later immersing myself in qualitative methods, I was keen to see if and how the hindsight bias might happen in talk, thus addressing at least a little bit of the striking absence of narrative research on this effect and setting my work apart from the "mainstream" studies. Running this project alongside my ongoing mixed methods PhD thesis on out-group helping, it was enlightening to come back to the subject of my quantitative master thesis, the hindsight effect, and analyze it from a qualitative angle.

I anticipated that exploring the hindsight effect by adopting a narrative approach might shed new light on at least some of the traditional research on it and put it in a somewhat different perspective without necessarily marginalizing its value. …

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