Towards Theory Integration: Connecting Hindsight Bias and Seeding Effects
When people estimate the quantities of objects (e.g., country populations), are then presented with the objects’ actual quantities, and subsequently asked to remember their initial estimates, responses are often distorted towards the actual quantities. This hindsight bias—traditionally considered to reflect a cognitive error—has more recently been proposed to result from adaptive knowledge updating. But how to conceptualize such knowledge-updating processes and their potentially beneficial consequences? Here we provide a methodological and analytical framework that conceptualizes knowledge updating in the context of hindsight bias in real-world estimation by formally connecting it with research on seeding effects—improvements in people's estimation accuracy after exposure to numerical facts. This integrative perspective highlights a previously neglected facet of knowledge updating, namely, recalibration of metric domain knowledge, which can be expected to lead to transfer learning and thus improve estimation for objects from a domain more generally. We develop an experimental paradigm to investigate the association of hindsight bias with improved estimation accuracy. This paradigm allows for the joint measurement of both phenomena with the same formal approach. In Experiment 1, we demonstrate that the classical approach to triggering hindsight bias indeed produces transfer learning. In Experiment 2, we provide evidence for the novel prediction that hindsight bias can be triggered via transfer learning; this establishes a direct link from knowledge updating to hindsight bias. Our work integrates two prominent but previously unconnected research programs on the effects of knowledge updating in real-world estimation and supports the notion that hindsight bias is driven by adaptive learning processes.