What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking

By Neal J. Roese; James M. Olson | Go to book overview

articulations of better possible pasts that individuals may realize more desirable futures. Indeed, counterfactual thought processes may be one of the central components of the human experience. Recent neurological findings indicate that among the deficits that accrue from damage to the prefrontal cortex (such as global deficits in personality, memory, and insight) is an inability to generate counterfactual thoughts ( Knight & Grabowecky, 1995). Echoing the theme of functionality that pervades much of this volume, these authors noted that "without such [mental] simulations, it is difficult [for individuals with prefrontal cortex damage] to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again" (p. 1359). Counterfactual thoughts represent an empirically definable and measurable feature of individuals' mental lives; research examining these thoughts may therefore be uniquely poised to shed new light on the very essence of human consciousness. Given the implications of research on counterfactual thinking for numerous domains of psychology, we anticipate eagerly the many insights that may be gleaned from future work by social psychologists in this rapidly expanding field.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This chapter was written while the first author was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship and while the second author was supported by a research grant, both from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We are grateful to Nyla Branscombe, Faith Gleicher, Karen Grabowski, Dale Miller, and Jeff Sherman for their valuable comments on previous drafts of this chapter. Principal writing of this chapter took place while the first author was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The ideas expressed here benefited greatly from comments by the faculty and graduate student participants of a counterfactual thinking discussion group that met at UCSB during the 1993-94 academic year.


REFERENCES

Anderson, C. A., & Godfrey, S. S. ( 1987). "Thoughts about actions: The effect of specificity and availability of imagined behavioral scripts on expectations about oneself and others". Social Cognition, 5, 238-258.

Au, T. K. ( 1983). "Chinese and English counterfactuals: The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis revisited". Cognition, 15, 155-187.

Au, T. K. ( 1984). "Counterfactuals: In reply to Alfred Bloom". Cognition, 17, 288-302.

Berlyne, D. E. ( 1960). Conflict, arousal, and curiosity. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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