Home Theories Hard-easy effect

Hard-easy effect

Reviewed by expert Scientifically proven

The hard-easy effect, also known as the discriminability effect or the difficulty effect, happens when we inaccurately forecast our ability to accomplish tasks based on their difficulty level. It implies that we are overconfident in our ability to complete complex activities and underconfident in our ability to do simple ones.

Table of contents:
  1. Where this bias occurs
    1. Individual effects
    2. Systemic effects
  2. Why it happens
  3. Why it is important
  4. How to avoid it
  5. How it started
  6. Example:
    1. The hard-easy effect in holistic tests
    2. Intelligence

Where this bias occurs

In each case, when we are asked to anticipate or remark on our accomplishment with a task, the hard-easy effect arises. Our confidence rarely corresponds to our fundamental skills, leaving us unprepared for demanding jobs and stressed about simple ones. While the hard-easy impact is most commonly exhibited by our failure to recognize whether we got an answer correct or incorrect accurately, it can also have detrimental real-life consequences. Consider the situation where you are learning to drive. You must pass both a written and a driving test to obtain your driver's license. The driving test is perhaps more challenging than the written exam since it is dependent on skill and knowledge, whereas the writing exam is mainly based on information. On the other hand, the hard-easy effect predicts that you will be overconfident in your ability to pass the driving test and underconfident in your ability to pass the writing exam. As a result, you don't get much driving practice and spend all of your time preparing for the written exam. The hard-easy effect may have made it easy for you to pass the written exam on exam day, but you failed the driving test because you were overconfident in your driving ability.

Individual effects

The aforementioned hypothetical example of inaccurately projecting one's success for various aspects of earning a license shows that the hard-easy effect can have severe consequences for our conduct, not simply our beliefs. The hard-easy result illustrates a wrong attitude that is based on our incapacity to make accurate future predictions. Our current behavior is frequently patterned on our expectations for the future, which means we make decisions that are not in our best interests.

Systemic effects

The hard-easy effect may appear to be a bias reserved for minor matters such as trivia and tests. Overconfidence, which is part of the hard-easy effect's problem, may, on the other hand, have some pretty grave ramifications for our society. Researchers identified overconfidence as a possible cause of conflicts, strikes, lawsuits, and business failures. Taking legal action, fighting in a military war, and operating a successful business are all extremely demanding and complex activities. When we overestimate our potential to succeed at these strenuous activities, we may take on projects we are not entirely prepared for. We don't put in the effort required for success, and failure in any areas mentioned above can have severe societal ramifications. Engaging in battles that we will very certainly lose may result in unnecessary lives, litigation can be exceedingly costly for all parties involved, and failing firms can leave investors disillusioned. Furthermore, if we are lousy at forecasting our talents, it stands to reason that we will be much worse at anticipating the abilities of individuals about whom we know less. It's tough for businesses to delegate and manage operations efficiently if we're wrong about how good our peers will be at a task. Due to a lack of trust in easy work, easy activities may be allocated to higher positions in the firm. At the same time, complex tasks may be assigned to less experienced personnel.

Why it happens

There are a variety of hypotheses on what causes the hard-easy effect. The majority of people who study the hard/easy effect believe other biases cause it. The Dunning-Kruger effect, which similarly explains the difference between perceived and natural skill, is similar to the hard-easy product. The gap may exist because when we lack the knowledge to be good at something, we also lack the understanding of our lack of expertise on that subject. Because we don't comprehend the subject, determining how much we know about it is challenging. Our accuracy is hampered by cognitive biases when it comes to memory recall. When we try to obtain information, this offers a lot of possibilities for mistakes. We struggle to recall facts to answer a difficult question, which makes us vulnerable to memory biases. While these biases influence the accuracy of our memories, they have no bearing on our confidence. This might explain our tendency to overestimate our ability to answer tough queries. But what accounts for our lack of confidence when it comes to simple questions? Little study has been done to determine what causes the hard-easy effect; however, it might be attributable to another cognitive bias known as bikeshedding. Bikeshedding is a term that explains our penchant for wasting excessive amounts of time on insignificant things. The more time we spend trying to respond to a simple question, the more likely we are to come up with proof indicating our answer is incorrect. As a result, we may be less sure in our responses, as opposed to complex problems where, since we don't know enough about it, we only evaluate data that supports our position.

Why it is important

Daily, we are confronted with uncertainty, and to navigate properly throughout the globe, we must be able to cope with it rationally. The hard-easy effect argues that we react irrationally to delay because we are poor forecasters of our talents and outcomes. We are continuously attempting to forecast our future behavior, and this influences many of our current actions. Our decisions may result in undesirable consequences if they are based on an erroneous assessment of our skills. The hard-easy effect implies that we are overestimating our talents. Our overconfidence in being correct might cause us to be narrow-minded when stretched outside of our false confidence in whether we got an answer properly. We are unlikely to accept information that contradicts our beliefs if we believe we are correct. The hard-easy effect implies that we are more inclined to assume we can do challenging work on our own, and hence we are less likely to seek help when we need it. On the other hand, if we don't feel we can succeed at simple things, we may not take on those projects. That means we're undervaluing ourselves and failing to capitalize on chances that come our way.

How to avoid it

Many biases influence our capacity to make correct predictions, creating it challenging to guarantee that our confidence is appropriately matched to our performance. However, a follow-up study by the same researchers who discovered the hard-easy effect found that the more informed people are on a topic, the more accurate their confidence in their responses is. We might feel more certain about whether the question being asked is something we know the answer to when we see a lot about a topic. When we don't know much about a subject, all of our responses are simply guesses, making it impossible to determine whether or not they are correct. We may need to become more aware of the issues we are making forecasts to improve our accuracy in anticipating our success. However, when it comes to being overconfident under challenging tasks, Lichtenstein discovered that knowledgeability merely lowered the margin of error. The findings revealed that even informed people are still hesitant to answer simple inquiries.

How it started

The hard-easy effect was initially studied in 1977 by psychologists Sarah Lichtenstein and Baruch Fischhoff, who have a specific interest in behavioral psychology. Given the prevalence of prediction-making in our daily lives, the researchers sought to see how confidence factored into probability self-assessments. Lichtenstein and Fischhoff tested whether people could accurately foresee their success and failure in a series of tests. Their trials varied in difficulty to see how self-assessment changed as a task became more difficult. Lichtenstein and Fischhoff asked participants to identify the artist's nationality for 12 separate drawings in an experiment in a more challenging challenge. There were only two possibilities: either the artist was a European youngster or an Asian child. Following their response to each illustration, the participants were asked to rate how likely they felt they had gotten the answer correct. The experiment's findings revealed that participants got the answer correct 53% of the time. The average response rate for accurate responses, on the other hand, was over 68 percent. This demonstrates a disconnect between confidence and actual performance, with individuals feeling they did better than they did.


The hard-easy effect in holistic tests

The bulk of the research that identified evidence of the hard-easy effect focused on confidence and success rates for specific topics. Individual items are used to assess trust and success. What happens if the entire exam is easy or difficult? Is there still a hard-easy effect? The psychologists who initially studied the hard-easy effect, Lichtenstein and Fischhoff, sought to answer this question. The researchers utilized the findings of preliminary tests to create a set of simple questions and an examination of difficult questions in a future trial. The participants were then given a test with just simple questions or a test with only tricky questions.


While Lichtenstein and Fischhoff claim that having more information about a subject makes people better at predicting their performance on tough questions, they discovered that this is not the case for intelligence in another study. We could assume that the more intelligent we are, the better we anticipate our talents. On the other hand, the hard-easy effect may corroborate the cliche that book smarts do not imply street smarts since academic intelligence did not appear to improve people's ability to calibrate their confidence in their talents.

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