Looking back on the COVID pandemic: hindsight and outcome bias

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The Covid-19 pandemic is dynamically unfolding, and outcomes are still uncertain (despite many prediction models). Yet, in hindsight, people might find such outcomes foreseeable and/or inevitable (e.g., death rates, economic damage)—an effect called the hindsight bias. Moreover, with outcome bias, how people or institutions dealt with the crisis is evaluated by outcomes that materialized only later. These two related phenomena can lead people to judge political leaders and health authorities’ current performance based on the ultimate outcome of the pandemic, rather than basing it on the knowledge available at the time. Importantly, however, these biases are not uniformly shown by everyone but manifest themselves in different ways depending on one’s political leanings and personal involvement in the Covid-19 crisis. Intriguingly, they are even instrumentalized within the political discourse along party lines (e.g., government critics being accused of showing hindsight), making it necessary to reflect on ways of distinguishing objective performance from biased perception and political spin. The two biases can affect the ultimate outcomes of the pandemic (who is blamed, whether changes are made to prevent future disasters, etc.). Finally, some lessons learned (e.g., for policymakers and healthcare providers) and future direction are offered.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Social Science of the COVID-19 Pandemic
EditorsMonica K. Miller
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780197615133
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 6 Sept 2021


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