As another example of dysfunctionality, counterfactual thoughts might also be structured in such a way that precludes or retards performance enhancement. People who chronically generate counterfactuals that are self-protective (e.g., that focus on external causal antecedents of failure) or that mutate minor factors of only limited causal potency may be less likely to identify means of improving themselves in the future (cf. Roese & Olson, 1993a). Thus, in an important sense, we do not mean to assert that counterfactual effects are unceasingly beneficial for the individual. The findings described here should therefore be interpreted as one subset within a larger framework of cognitive processes ranging from the dysfunctional to the functional. Nevertheless, a functional approach has the advantage of offering a more basic foundation out of which many higher level conceptions may emerge.
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 Ron Deibert, Karen Grabowski, and Jim Sherman for their valuable comments on previous drafts of this chapter.
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