AuthorsK. Teigen, A. B. Kanten and J. A. Terum
TitleGoing to the Other Extreme: Counterfactual Thinking Leads to Polarized Judgments
AfilliationSoftware Engineering, Software Engineering
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
JournalThinking & Reasoning

Counterfactual thinking is often assumed to depend on closeness between what is and what might have been, following a principle of minimal mutations of reality. Yet when people are asked to describe autobiographical incidents that "might" have been different, they typically report situations that could have had opposite rather than just different outcomes (Experiment 1). In four subsequent studies participants were presented with vignettes of critical situations that take a turn for the better or the worse. Consequences of counterfactual events were consistently evaluated as more extreme than outcomes of identical, factual events (Experiment 2 and 3), and estimated probabilities of success were higher for positive events that did not occur than when they occurred (Experiment 4). Also, the probabilities of accident victims to be seriously injured were higher in the counterfactual case (Experiment 5). Thus, speculations about what would have happened, if . . . seem to induce more schematic thinking and perhaps a higher level of construal than predictions of what will happen.

Citation KeySimula.prepare.20