What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking

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

pregnancy ( "Radical Prophylaxis," 1992), the decline in the African American family ( "Endangered Family," 1993), and the increase in crime among inner-city youth ("Growing Up Fast," 1993), implying that separate explanations should be adopted for unwanted pregnancies among adults, for the decline in the White family, and for the increase in crime among white-collar workers. We do not mean to suggest naively that social forces do not at times affect groups differently nor that there are no occasions in which separate explanations are appropriate for different groups. Our concern, however, is in understanding why counterfactual reasoning, which is so compelling in other areas of judgment as described in the chapters of this volume, may be considered less relevant when causal question involves race, gender, age, social class, or sexual orientation.

Perhaps counterfactual reasoning is underutilized is such cases because when a person tests whether or not a factor is necessary for an event, the counterfactual reasoning implicitly requires the person to determine whether separate explanations should be adopted for particular groups. For example, when one asks whether being a woman is necessary for failure, the implicit counterfactual question is whether it is sensible to separate the genders to understand the event. By social convention, however, it is commonly agreed that men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, race, and socioeconomic status, be treated and described separately. Hence, the testing role of counterfactual reasoning is obviated for questions involving social groups. Future research is needed to examine this hypothesis and, more generally, to extend the understanding of conditions favoring the use of contrastive and counterfactual reasoning in causal judgment.


REFERENCES

Adi, H., Karplus, R., Lawson, A., & Pulos, S. ( 1978). "Intellectual development beyond elementary school. VI: Correlational reasoning". School Science and Mathematics, 78, 675-683.

Cheng, P. W., & Novick, L. R. ( 1990). "Causes versus enabling conditions". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 545-567.

Eagly, A. H., & Kite, M. E. ( 1987). "Are stereotypes of nationalities applied to both men and women?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 457-462.

Einhorn, H. J., & Hogarth, R. M. ( 1986). "Judging probable cause". Psychological Bulletin, 99, 3-19.

"Endangered family". ( 1993, August 30). Newsweek, Vol. CXXII, 17-27.

Gilligan, C. ( 1982). In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

"Growing up fast and frightened". ( 1993, November 22). Newsweek, Vol. CXXII, 52.

Hall, J. A. ( 1987). "On explaining gender differences: The case of non-verbal communication". In P. Shaver & C. Hendrick (Eds.), Review of personality and social psychology (Vol. 7, pp. 177-200). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

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