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The Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking



Die Psychologie kontrafaktischen Denkens«. Counterfactual think- ing refers to mental constructions of alternatives to past events. In this over- view of the psychological basis of counterfactual thinking, we examine how such thoughts influence emotions and carry benefits for everyday behavior. Two psychological mechanisms, contrast effects and causal inferences, can ex- plain many of the effects of counterfactual thinking reported by psychologists. We then consider how counterfactuals, when used within expository but also fictional narratives (for example, in alternative histories), might be persuasive and entertaining.
Historical Social Research, Vol. 34 — 2009 — No. 2, 16-26
The Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking
Neal J. Roese & Mike Morrison
Abstract: »Die Psychologie kontrafaktischen Denkens«. Counterfactual think-
ing refers to mental constructions of alternatives to past events. In this over-
view of the psychological basis of counterfactual thinking, we examine how
such thoughts influence emotions and carry benefits for everyday behavior.
Two psychological mechanisms, contrast effects and causal inferences, can ex-
plain many of the effects of counterfactual thinking reported by psychologists.
We then consider how counterfactuals, when used within expository but also
fictional narratives (for example, in alternative histories), might be persuasive
and entertaining.
Keywords: counterfactual thinking, causal inference effect, contrast effect.
The Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking
What might your life be like if you had made key choices differently? What if
you had attended a different college, chosen a different career, married some-
one else? Most people ponder such possibilities at least once in awhile; some-
times they are haunted by the apparent failings such musings reveal. These
sorts of thoughts are termed counterfactual, meaning that they are mental rep-
resentations of alternatives to past factual events. Psychological researchers
have found that counterfactual thoughts play an important role in mental life,
informing decisions, shaping emotions, and placing knowledge into context.
According to the definition commonly agreed upon by psychologists, coun-
terfactual thoughts refer to mental representations that are explicitly contrary to
facts or beliefs (Byrne, 2005; Epstude & Roese, 2008; Roese, 1997). Some
aspect of perceived reality is taken as the starting point, and the counterfactual
embodies a juxtaposition against this reality. Typically, an event that is nega-
tive or unusual (e.g., an automobile accident) triggers the process of counter-
factual thinking. The resultant counterfactual then focuses on how the event
might have been different. Counterfactual thoughts often take the form of con-
ditional statements, embracing both an antecedent (“If only Bob had kept his
eyes on the road”) and a consequent (“he would have avoided the accident”). In
the typical thoughts that abound in daily life, the antecedent constitutes an
Address all communications to: Neal J.Roese / Mike Morrison, Department of Psychology,
University of Illinois, 603 East Daniel St., Champaign IL 61820, USA;
This research was supported National Institute of Mental Health grant R01-MH55578,
awarded to Neal Roese.
action or decision by an individual, and the consequent describes a state of
being, often framed in evaluative terms (Markman & McMullen, 2003). Coun-
terfactuals can focus, therefore, on alternative outcomes that are better than
actuality (“upward counterfactuals”) or worse than actuality (“downward coun-
terfactuals”). Psychologists are interested in counterfactual thinking because
they seem to be intimately related to emotion, social perception, and self-
The exploration of counterfactuals has been initiated independently by
scholars in diverse disciplines, including philosophy, history, economics, po-
litical science, linguistics, computer science. The study of the psychological
basis of counterfactual thinking began in the 1970s with studies of the basic
memory properties of counterfactual versus factual inferences (e.g., Carpenter,
1973; Fillenbaum, 1974). A seminal paper by Kahneman and Tversky (1982)
reframed the study of counterfactuals in terms of biased judgment and deci-
sion-making. By assessing counterfactuals within their everyday life context,
such as consumer choice, monetary decisions, or career plans, Kahneman and
Tversky initiated a new wave of research that has connected counterfactual
thinking to a wide range of psychological and behavioral outcomes. For exam-
ple, counterfactual thinking has been linked to difficulty in coping with misfor-
tune, judgments of blame and responsibility, depression and anxiety symptoms,
feelings of regret, superstitious beliefs, overconfidence regarding the predict-
ability of the past, and expectations for future occurrences (e.g., Alicke, Buck-
ingham, Zell, & Davis, 2008; Gilbar & Hevroni, 2007; Markman & Miller,
2006; Miller & Taylor, 1995; Roese & Maniar, 1997; Roese & Olson, 1993;
Tetlock & Lebow, 2001).
The present paper provides a brief overview of the psychology of counter-
factual thinking, examining the determinants and consequences of such
thoughts in daily life. We then apply these ideas to shed light on how counter-
factuals in the form of “alternative realities” are used in fiction, film, and other
forms of narrative entertainment. As we will show, the psychological basis of
counterfactual thinking illuminates their role as dramatic devices (Roese,
Some Consequences of Counterfactual Thinking
Psychological research in the 1980s and 1990s emphasized the negative conse-
quences of counterfactual thinking. The emotion of regret is a negative feeling
that hinges on a counterfactual inference, specifically the recognition that a
decision, if made differently, would have resulted in a better outcome. “Up-
ward” counterfactuals, i.e., those that focus on how past events might have
been better, can produce this feeling of regret. If an individual repeatedly
dwells on past failings by musing on how things might have been better, the
individual is at risk for depression and anxiety disorders (Kocovski, Endler,
Rector, & Flett, 2005; Markman & Miller, 2006; Monroe, Skowronski, Mac-
Donald, & Wood, 2005; Roese et al., in press). In other research, long-term
rumination (repetitive intrusive thoughts about past events) on upward counter-
factuals was found to interfere with coping with negative life events (Davis &
Lehman, 1995). Another form of negative consequence was biased decision-
making. After making a particular investment, for example, a decision-maker
might see that he would be better off by 25% had he invested elsewhere. To the
extent that this counterfactual realization produces sharply negative emotion,
the decision-maker may be driven to make subsequent non-optimal decisions
by re-assessing strategy and switching investments (Roese, 1999; Zeelenberg &
Pieters, 1999). All else being equal, investors tend to “over-switch” (Barber &
Odean, 2000), which is to say that they do not remain within a particular in-
vestment long enough to realize maximal benefit, instead incurring unnecessary
transaction costs by switching to new investments. The counterfactual emotion
of regret exacerbates this tendency to over-switch.
Counterfactual thinking also influences judgments of blame and responsibil-
ity (Alicke et al., 2008). Consider the case of Harry, who is attacked late at
night while walking near his flat. To the extent that it is easy to imagine Harry
taking an alternative route, or staying inside and not walking at all, the result-
ing counterfactual emphasizes Harry’s decision-making role as a causal input
into the attack. Although it is utterly clear to most observers that primary blame
rests on the assailant and not the victim, there is nevertheless a tendency to
blame the victim more in light of a counterfactual that “undoes” the outcome
by focusing on how Harry’s actions might have been different. A variety of
studies have thus connected counterfactual thoughts to blame judgments in
criminal and other legal decision-making contexts (Alicke et al., 2008; Catel-
lani & Milesi, 2001; Macrae, 1992; Macrae, Milne, & Griffiths, 1993; Turley,
Sanna, & Reiter, 1995).
This brief overview of the consequences of counterfactual thinking only
scratches the surface. Several hundred studies have demonstrated the impact of
counterfactual thinking on a wide range of judgments, decisions, emotions, and
behavior. These various consequences may be understood in terms of two basic
psychological mechanisms.
Two Mechanisms
Two main mechanisms have been argued to underlie the majority of psycho-
logical consequences of counterfactual thinking (Epstude & Roese, 2008;
Roese, 1997; Roese & Olson, 1995).
Contrast Effects
Counterfactual thoughts may influence emotions and judgments by way of a
contrast effect, which is based on the juxtaposition of reality versus what might
have been. For example, winning $50 feels nice, but if one came close to win-
ning $100 instead of $50, it does not feel quite as nice. This effect of counter-
factuals on emotion and satisfaction is an example of a widely observed psy-
chological principle, that of the contrast effect. Contrast effects occur when a
judgment is made more extreme via the juxtaposition of some anchor or stan-
dard (Sherif & Hovland, 1961). Contrast effects can apply to any sort of judg-
ment, including physical properties, such as heaviness, brightness, loudness, or
temperature. For example, ice cream feels especially cold immediately after
sipping hot tea. A suitcase may feel especially light if one has just been moving
furniture. Contrast effects also apply to subjective appraisals of value, satisfac-
tion, and pleasure. Thus, by the same token, a factual outcome may be judged
to be worse if a more desirable alternative outcome is salient, and that same
outcome may be judged to be better if a less desirable alternative outcome is
This counterfactual contrast effect was vividly illustrated in a study of
Olympic athletes and their reactions to medal-winning performances. Medvec,
Madey, and Gilovich (1995) found that Silver medalists were less satisfied than
were Bronze medalists. Most observes would assume that second place confers
greater joy than third place. But in several studies, these authors showed that
the counterfactual that “I almost came in first” is salient to the Silver medalist
(i.e., an upward counterfactual), whereas the counterfactual that “I might have
come in fourth and missed getting a medal” is salient to the Bronze medalist
(i.e., a downward counterfactual). These differing counterfactuals (upward vs.
downward) were found to influence the degree of satisfaction felt by the ath-
letes, as indicated by their facial displays of rejoicing immediately after the
competition, and also by questionnaires in which the athletes gave ratings of
their subjective pleasure.
Causal Inference Effects
Counterfactual thoughts may also imply causal inferences, which may have
psychological consequences that are independent of contrast effects. By virtue
of their conditional structure and implicit reference to a parallel factual state-
ment, counterfactual propositions exemplify the logic of Mill’s method of
difference (see Mill, 1872). For example, consider the counterfactual statement
that “If only Ellen had bought the insurance, she would not have been in such a
dire financial situation after the fire.” This alternative scenario is implicitly
connected to the parallel facts that Ellen did not buy insurance and that Ellen
was in a dire financial situation. If the counterfactual world in which Ellen does
buy insurance is identical in all other respects to factuality, then the only thing
that can account for the difference in financial situations between the counter-
factual world and the factual world is Ellen’s insurance decision. As a result,
this counterfactual points to the conclusion that Ellen’s decision was a causal
force in bringing about her financial situation. In current psychological theoriz-
ing, it is assumed that counterfactual thoughts do not create or evoke the causal
inference, but rather that they dramatize, underscore, or illuminate a causal
inference that is already thought by the individual to reasonably plausible (cf.
Epstude & Roese, 2008; Spellman & Mandel, 1999).
Via their influence on causal inferences, counterfactual thoughts may influ-
ence the blaming effects discussed in the previous section, but they may also
underlie overconfidence in predicting the past (one may feel certain that the
outcome of a football match was predictable in hindsight because a particular
causal explanation, such as the role of a star player, is salient, e.g., Roese &
Maniar, 1997). By the same token, predictions of future outcomes may also be
influenced by this counterfactual-induced causal inference (if a football victory
was due to the actions of the star player, then one may predict future victories
in games featuring that same star player).
These two mechanisms of counterfactual represent a basic, lower-level of
conceptual analysis. At a higher-level, we may apply these ideas of mechanism
to a broader assessment of “why” human beings generate so many counterfac-
tual thoughts.
Functions of Counterfactual Thinking
Counterfactual thoughts may serve important psychological functions for the
individual (Epstude & Roese, 2008; Roese, 1997). That is, counterfactual
thoughts may be construed not only as negative and as sources of bias. Rather,
they may also be construed as useful or adaptive for certain purposes and under
certain circumstances. In a functional analysis, such global benefits may ex-
plain the genesis, pervasiveness, and situational variation of counterfactual
Two distinct functions of counterfactual thinking have been supported by a
range of research. First, such thoughts may serve a preparative function; that
is, they may illuminate means by which individuals can prepare for the future
and, accordingly, improve their lot. Thus, if a student who failed an exam real-
izes that he would have passed if only he had studied more, he has identified a
causally potent antecedent action that may be subsequently deployed to en-
hance future performance (Markman & McMullen, 2003; Roese, 1994; Roese
& Olson, 1997). Second, counterfactual thoughts can serve an affective func-
tion; that is, they may be used to make oneself or another person feel better.
This affective function relies not on any causal information, but rather on the
contrast effect mechanism. That is, a given outcome is judged more favorably
to the extent that a less desirable anchor is made salient (Roese, 1999). For
example, a person who experiences a negative event (e.g., an automobile acci-
dent) may console herself by thinking that the event might have been even
worse (e.g., she might also have been seriously injured).
These two psychological functions of counterfactual thinking help to place
into context a wide range of effects of counterfactual thinking that have been
observed. More specifically, several key patterns of counterfactual thinking in
daily life are compatible with the general idea that counterfactuals can improve
performance. First, counterfactual thoughts tend to be idealistic, in that upward
counterfactuals outnumber downward counterfactuals. That is, people tend to
think spontaneously about how the past could have been better rather than how
it could have been worse (Nasco & Marsh 1999; Summerville & Roese, 2008).
Second, counterfactual thoughts are situationally reactive, in that they are more
likely to appear after failure than after success (Roese & Hur 1997). Third,
counterfactual thoughts are problem-focused, in that they tend to focus on
fixing problems and achieving goals (Roese, Hur, & Pennington, 1999). Fi-
nally, counterfactual thoughts themselves have the effect of improving per-
formance, at least under some circumstances (Markman, McMullen, & Elizaga,
2008; Roese, 1994).
That counterfactual thoughts help to improve performance (the preparative
function) is consistent with recent brain imaging evidence. If counterfactual
thinking is implicated in learning, deciding, and planning (all of which seem to
involve neural pathways that come together in the orbitofrontal cortex of the
brain; Kringelbach, 2005), then counterfactual thinking should also involve
similar brain activation. Indeed, patients with damage to the orbitofrontal cor-
tex show decreased skill in counterfactual thinking, and tasks that elicit coun-
terfactual thinking involve orbitofrontal activation (Camille et al., 2004;
Chandrasekhar, Capra, Moore, Noussair, & Berns, 2008; Fujiwara, Tobler,
Taira, Iijima, & Tsutsui, 2008).
This psychological basis of counterfactual thinking can be applied to an un-
derstanding of counterfactual ideas and might be more or less convincing when
used as an argument, or when used to bolster a narrative. We turn next to a
discussion of these ideas.
Impact of Counterfactuals in Communications and
The psychological basis of counterfactual thinking helps to shed light on why
some sorts of counterfactuals come across as more persuasive, more compel-
ling, and more entertaining. As discussed previously, counterfactuals can influ-
ence emotions by way of a contrast effect. Accordingly, counterfactuals may be
used to make a narrative more stimulating (and perhaps more enjoyable) by
way of this contrast effect mechanism. Upward counterfactuals (thinking about
how the past might have been better) evoke negative emotions, whereas down-
ward counterfactuals (thinking about how the past might have been worse)
evoke positive emotions, by way of juxtaposing against reality. By skillfully
injecting a story with counterfactuals, a storyteller may manipulate the emo-
tions of the audience with subtlety and aplomb.
A classic example is the film It’s a Wonderful Life, in which the main char-
acter is shown what his small town (and the people in it) might have been like
had he never been born. The vision shown to the main character is a dark and
unpleasant vision – the town that might have been is much worse than reality,
and many of the people’s lives that are emptier and lonelier. By drawing out
this contrast, the main character, and the audience in turn, come to appreciate
his actual life to a greater extent. The film ends with a joyous appreciation of
the world as it actually is. In this example, the entire plot of the film hinges on
a downward counterfactual.
Counterfactuals may also be used to heighten emotion at specific points in a
narrative. The feeling that something bad almost happened creates a momen-
tary tension, followed rapidly by a release of positive emotion when it becomes
clear that this something bad did not happen. Winning a race, scoring a big
promotion, getting the girl are all positive story outcomes with satisfying end-
ings that leave audiences pleased. But a race won that was nearly lost, a promo-
tion that was nearly a termination, and a girl who came so very close to falling
in love with some other guy are all story endings with dramatic flare born of
that feeling of “almostness,” and they leave the audience all the more satisfied.
Creating situations in which something else almost happens is a staple of
good storytelling. As plots unfold, forks in the road, surprising twists, and the
overall recognition of multiple possibilities breathe life into the story. Devices
that the author can plant to emphasize the almostness, the palpable alternative
that nearly happened, create dramatic tension. Some are blatant, as when an
action hero’s sidekick suffers a gruesome death (eaten by an alligator, melted
in a vat of acid), a fate spelled out in vivid detail so as to drive home the coun-
terfactual that the very same fate nearly befell the hero. Some are only a little
less blatant, as when the fate is not directly portrayed but rather hinted at: a vat
of boiling acid or a pit of snakes are shown, the hero nearly falls in, but then
does not. We see the acid or snakes, but we are left to imagine on our own how
awful it would have been to have fallen into such places.
Theme and Variation
Counterfactuals may also enhance the persuasiveness and entertainment value
of a narrative by way of their connection to the element of “theme and varia-
tion.” If reality is the theme, and counterfactual is the variation, then the juxta-
position of the two embodies a combination of the joy of recognition with
surprise at something novel. Hofstadter (1979) argued that “the crux of creativ-
ity resides in the ability to manufacture variations on a theme” (p. 249). He
further argued that the ease with which ordinary people generate counterfactual
thoughts is an example of the basic creative capacity of the human mind. In an
important sense, artists who use variations on a theme are mimicking the natu-
ral manner in which the human brain sees the world. Brains comprehend reality
by generating benchmarks built of past experience. When the brain sees some-
thing surprising, the experience of surprise itself comes from the mental
benchmarks that pop to mind and reveal how things could have (or should
have) been. Brains are continuously producing creative variations (i.e., counter-
factual elaborations of alternatives to current experiences) as we experience the
flow of events in our lives.
To become truly great art, theme and variation need a third companion,
resolution. In a three-act play, three distinct sections correspond to establishing
the setting, introducing a problem, and then presenting a solution to the prob-
lem. Like the three-act play, a “plot counterfactual” embraces a triplet struc-
ture. The theme is reality as we know it. The variation is the counterfactual,
and contained in the counterfactual is some problem that confronts the main
characters. The resolution is an ending that reveals some insight about the
workings of reality that might otherwise have gone unrecognized. For example,
in the film, It’s a Wonderful Life, the value of friendship and community is
drawn into sharper focus by juxtaposing their factual form to a counterfactual
alternative in which they are absent.
A constraint on the persuasive power of a counterfactual is its degree of
variation, or the amount of alteration to reality, that it entails. Berlyne (1974)
demonstrated experimentally that what strikes many as good art typically in-
volves only slight deviation from expectations. Art that perfectly fits expecta-
tions is boring; art involving a great departure from the familiar strikes many as
bizarre and repugnant. Somewhere between the extremes of the boring and the
bizarre lays a sweet zone of recognition coupled with mild surprise. This prin-
ciple advocated by Berlyne (1974) applies to counterfactuals as well, whether
they are used by artists to influence an audience’s emotions, or if they are used
as persuasive arguments to convince someone of a particular point of view. A
compelling counterfactual, one that convinces an audience that some alterna-
tive might well have happened, must follow a “minimal rewrite rule” (Tetlock
& Belkin, 1996). Small, minor changes to reality are acceptable, whereas big-
ger changes may leave the audience baffled. As psychological research on
counterfactual thinking has shown, the regrets with which people kick them-
selves also follow this minimal rewrite rule (Roese & Summerville, 2005).
People typically focus on just one action to alter within the counterfactual. All
other aspects of reality remain within the counterfactual exactly as they truly
are. In the best stories of the alternate history genre (in which the entire story
takes place in a counterfactual world), there are a few key differences between
the story’s setting and reality, framed by innumerable similarities, such as the
laws of physics and basic characteristics of human nature. Counterfactuals
within narratives that follow this minimal rewrite rule are, we suggest, the most
compelling and most persuasive (Lebow, 2000; Tetlock & Belkin, 1996).
Our primary goal has been to describe some research on the psychological
basis of counterfactual thinking. This overview emphasized a functional view
of such thought processes, which seeks to specify what goals they serve and
what benefits they bring for the typical individual on a daily basis. We believe
that these factors influence not only lay perceivers, but also scholars in various
disciplines. Accordingly, an understanding of the psychological principles
underlying counterfactual thinking might enable scholars of history, political
science, philosophy, and literature to structure counterfactually based argu-
ments more effectively. On the other hand, scholars might leverage their
knowledge of psychological principles so as to create arguments that juxtapose
against them. If cognitive biases maintain and reinforce conceptual parochial-
ism, then deliberately avoiding such cognitive constraints may facilitate the
realization of more creative, novel, and insightful analyses.
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... The causal and counterfactual thinking natural relation is still a topic of interest, especially if the causal judgments of the reality are built with counterfactual comparisons (Nyhout & Ganea, 2020;Weisberg & Gopnik, 2013;Harris, 2000). To understand this relation, it has been important to discuss about the necessary conditions to the cognitive and thinking development (Nyhout & Ganea, 2017;Roese & Morrison, 2009). Even more, as it has been found in several researches, the ability to consider the counterfactual possibilities comes early in life, it often starts even more, as it has been found in several researches, the possibility to consider the counterfactual possibilities comes early in life, it often starts when kids can express their own subjunctive ideas as "if's" (Epstuse & Rose, 2008;Beck, Robinson, Carroll & Apperly, 2006;Perner, Sprung y Steinkogler, 2004;Alemán & Nichols, 2003;Harris, 2000;Dias & Harris, 1990). ...
The counterfactual thinking cannot be only developed in early childhood, but it also could be a requirement for the causal reasoning. In this research a replica of German (1999) was made using counterfactual stories with Latin American kids between three and four years, demonstrating the possible main role counterfactual reasoning, by using computer animations. This was a different approach to the most recent made by Nyhout and Ganea (2020). Nonetheless, the participants of the study evidenced counterfactual reasoning to the relevant choice and the negative consequence conditions shown on the stories that represented the choices made by a starting role ( McNemar, N = 40, k = 11.53, p = .001). Although some of the results were not totally conclusive under the analyzed conditions. Lastly, some possible not controlled effects are discussed from stories shown to the children, that could have motivated the counterfactual thinking.
... representation of decision alternatives, attractiveness of representations, structuring and restructuring of the problem, decision consolidation and more. Connolly, Zeelenberg (2002), Roese, Morrison (2009) and others also dealt with counterfactual thinking. ...
The aim of the presented monograph is to examine the normative and descriptive understanding of decision - making in the context 6 of adaptation of individual approaches to changes in the business environment - especially adaptation to crisis conditions in connection with the Covid - 19 pandemic and adaptation to technological progress related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Our aim is to provide a comprehensive view of this managerial function, its development, current state and perspectives by defining normative and descriptive theories and their coexistence in the decision-making process.
... Therefore, regret is an emotion uniquely tied to decisions, in which the current state could have been better had a different decision or action been taken in the past (Landman, 1987;Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2007). When people experience regret, they engage in counterfactual thinking (Roese & Morrison, 2009;Van Dijk & Zeelenberg, 2005), the thoughts of "what might have been" that generate "if only" statements that could retrospectively undo a bad decision. ...
Regret is an important emotion in the context of decision-making and has many implications for individuals. Most of the previous research focused on contexts in which regret is more likely, while fewer studies examined for whom bad decisions are more likely to elicit regret. In this article, we examine the effect of one such individual difference – the locus of control – on regret following bad decisions that are either congruent (normal) or incongruent (abnormal) with perceived norms. Across three experiments, all employing different contexts, procedures, types of decisions, sampling frames, and moderator operationalization, we find that people regret more the negative outcomes of decisions that are incongruent (abnormal) than the negative outcomes of decisions that are congruent (normal) to the norms, and this effect is only observed among people high on internal locus of control. Individuals low on internal locus of control tend to regret equally decisions that are congruent (normal) and incongruent (abnormal) with existing norms. Further, the data reveals that this moderated effect is mediated by perceptions of personal responsibility for the decision.
... Regret has received research attention throughout the years in fields such as psychology and economics, particularly from decision theorists, who have studied the key role this emotion plays in decision-making processes and in producing adaptative behavior (e.g., Bell 1982;Loomes and Sugden 1982;Byrne 2002;Connolly and Zeelenberg 2002;Roese and Morrison 2009). Other authors have also dedicated themselves to exploring the psychological processes involved in regret, trying to understand what regret is, why we feel it, when we feel it, and towards what (e.g., Gilovich and Medvec 1995;Roese and Summerville 2005). ...
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Regret is more than just an individual cognitive and emotional phenomenon, and it can, and should, be seen as social and cultural as well. Because of this, regret can tell us a lot, both about someone’s biography, and about the society and culture that shape it. In this brief reflection, the aim is to look at regret as a phenomenon worthy of sociological focus. We focus on three main ways in which regret can be understood as a sociological object: regret as a part of someone’s biography, regret as something that is culturally shaped, and regret as a part of collective memory. We also explore the potentialities of using an intersectional framework to analyze regret in its different forms.
... In psicologia il pensiero controfattuale gioca un ruolo importante "per la mente, nel prendere decisioni, nel plasmare le emozioni". 28 Il pensiero controfattuale può aiutare a porre ipotesi riguardanti il passato: «se avessi avuto più tempo, se avessi saputo», oppure può essere di sostegno nel prendere decisioni per il futuro "se non si fosse soddisfatti, per esempio, di un servizio, si potrebbe cambiare il fornitore". 29 Ci si trova quotidianamente ad avere a che fare con la prospettiva controfattuale: «che cosa sarebbe successo se un individuo avesse frequentato un'altra scuola, se non si fosse sposato, se non avesse fatto la carriera attuale?». ...
In the last decade, the p-value has been strongly criticized especially for the rule that leads to the dichotomous conclusion about the significance of the experimental result (significant or not). Therefore, on the one hand the p-value has been replaced with other tools, on the other hand it has been supplemented with other procedures, including fragility and credibility, which lead to further support the conclusion or not. The fragility index presents with some methodological weakness. The credibility index proposed in the literature seems suitable to supplement the p-value or the fragility index. The mechanism of the two procedures, which is based on what should happen to modify the experimental conclusion, suggests inserting these indexes in the counterfactual framework, namely considering them as new tools for its quantitative measurement. In this contribution we present this perspective, with reference to the application field of psychological sciences.
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Upward counterfactual thinking involves imagining favourable situations that could have changed the outcome of a negative event. Although it has been reliably positively associated with depression, a causal relationship has not yet been investigated. This study addressed this gap in the literature by examining whether upward counterfactual thinking causally increases state depression. The online experimental study was conducted on 469 Philippine residents (Mage = 29.45; SD = 10.35; Range 18–72). As predicted, individuals who were induced to engage in an upward counterfactual thinking writing activity regarding a previous negative experience related to an unattained goal reported higher state depression relative to individuals who completed a neutral writing task. Consistent with the sequential negative cognitions-to-affect framework articulated by theories of depression, regret mediated the link between upward counterfactual thinking and depression. Contrary to expectation, induced upward counterfactual thinking increased state depression when perceived personal control over the negative experience was low or moderate but not when high. Future opportunity to change the negative experience was independently associated with decreased state depression but did not interact with upward counterfactual thinking to influence responses. Implications of these findings are discussed.
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Hlavným cieľom monografie „Pohyb ku kognitívnym adaptačným štúdiám: adaptácia ako hra“ bolo orientovať súčasný výskum adaptačných štúdií vektorom empiricky zodpovednej kognitívnej vetvy neradikálneho konštruktivizmu. Tento zámer vyplýva z prudkej progresívnej diferenciácie výskumu adaptačných štúdií, ktorá sa v tejto oblasti prejavila hlavne v posledných dvoch dekádach. Modelom adaptácie ako hry v kognitívnovednej perspektíve sa poskytuje možnosť predikcie charakteru (aj v širšom zmysle) zážitku experientov adaptácií. Keďže podoba tohto zážitku výrazne formuje produkty adaptačného procesu do ich výslednej podoby, model adaptácie ako hry možno aplikovať aj v štandardnom umenovednom úsilí pri interpretácii jednotlivých adaptácií. Model adaptácie ako hry sa v monografii syntetizuje na základe poznatkov rozmanitých disciplín. V okruhu kognitívnych vied pomáhajú východiská filozofie, lingvistiky, informatiky, psychológie, antropológie, biológie či neurovedy – obzvlášť afektívnej neurovedy, ktorá sa zaoberá aj emočným rozmerom hry. V prieniku s podstatnými interdisciplinárnymi zložkami výskumu adaptácií sa vo veľkej miere využívali aj poznatky klasických i kognitívnovedných variácií literárnej vedy, filmovej vedy (miestami aj teatrológie) či mediálnych štúdií. Konzistentne s inými podobnými výsledkami kognitívnych vied sa dokazuje, že aj zdanlivo seriózne adaptácie, podobne ako je to v mnohých aspektoch našej kultúry, majú ludický základ.
Although organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) contribute to the effective functioning of organizations, performing or withholding such behaviors can have both positive and negative implications for employees. In this conceptual paper, we explain why the outcomes associated with OCB, the discretionary nature of OCB, and the way feelings of regret affect future behavior, make regret a useful perspective for understanding how OCB can be sustained. Further, we integrate theory and research on attribution and regret to propose that employees are most likely to experience regret when performing, or failing to perform OCB, leads to unexpected, negative outcomes. We also theorize that regret will be felt more strongly when these outcomes are severe, employees’ decision to engage in (withhold) OCB was exceptional, employees’ performance (withholding) of OCB was inconsistent with their orientation to act, and when the reason to engage in (withhold) OCB is difficult to justify. Altogether, our paper sheds light on when employees may regret performing OCB, when they may regret not engaging in OCB, and how such feelings may affect their willingness to be a good organizational citizen in the future. The implications of our propositions and directions for future research on regret and OCB are discussed.
Regret is an important emotion in narrative. It is often built into backstories, influences character arcs, and motivates action. Regret is also an important emotion for interactive stories. While linear narratives allow audiences to empathize with and understand characters through their feelings of regret, an interactive context allows participants to feel regret about their own actions and influence on events. A formal model of regret will allow automated interactive storytellers to identify and generate situations where characters, including the participant, feel regret about an action or outcome. To this end, we introduce a formal narrative planning-based model of regret based on character goals and choice. Using our model, we show how character regret is identified in the context of an example dilemma. Finally, we enumerate and discuss types of regret the model has not yet formalized.
This study investigated the emotional and behavioral potential of counterfactual thinking within sustainable tourism. Despite the growing interest in the determinants of sustainable tourist behavior, studies hardly seek detailed cognitive explanations. Furthermore, use of selective samples, survey techniques or other data-driven methods prevent existing frameworks from establishing causal linkages to attitudes or behavior. Across two experimental studies, counterfactual thinking—a goal-oriented cognitive process—was investigated with respect to environmental attitudes and behavioral improvement. Findings provided evidence for the utility of counterfactuals in the sustainable tourism domain. Feelings for the environment of a destination may change, and intentions for sustainable behavior may improve as a consequence of counterfactual thoughts. Theoretical and practical implications were discussed for sustainable tourism and environmental behavior.
The author contends that the difference between so-called factual and counterfactual arguments is greatly exaggerated; it is one of degree, not of kind. Both arguments ultimately rest on the quality of their assumptions, the chain of logic linking causes to outcomes, and their consistency with available evidence. Ile critiques two recent historical works that make extensive use of counterfactuals and finds them seriously deficient in method and argument. Iie then reviews the criteria for counterfactual experimentation proposed by social scientists who have addressed this problem and finds many of their criteria unrealistic and overly restrictive. The methods of counterfactual experimentation need to be commensurate with the purposes for which it is used. The author discusses three uses for counterfactual arguments and thought experiments and proposes eight criteria appropriate to plausible-world counterfactuals.
Counterfactuals are mental representations of alternatives to the past and produce consequences that are both beneficial and aversive to the individual. These apparently contradictory effects are integrated into a functionalist model of counterfactual thinking. The author reviews research in support of the assertions that (a) counterfactual thinking is activated automatically in response to negative affect, (b) the content of counterfactuals targets particularly likely causes of misfortune, (c) counterfactuals produce negative affective consequences through a contrast-effect mechanism and positive inferential consequences through a causal-inference mechanism, and (d) the net effect of counterfactual thinking is beneficial.