The effect of controllability and causality on counterfactual thinking

Thinking and Reasoning 21 (3):317-340 (2015)
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Abstract

Previous research on counterfactual thoughts about prevention suggests that people tend to focus on enabling rather than causing events and controllable rather than uncontrollable events. Two experiments explore whether counterfactual thinking about enablers is distinct from counterfactual thinking about controllable events. We presented participants with scenarios in which a cause and an enabler contributed to a negative outcome. We systematically manipulated the controllability of the cause and the enabler and asked participants to generate counterfactuals. The results indicate that when only the cause or the enabler is controllable participants undid the controllable event more often. However, when the cause and enabler are matched in controllability participants undid the enabler slightly more often. The findings are discussed in the context of the mental model, functional and judgement dissociation theories as well as previous research on counterfactual thinking. The importance of controllability and..

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Emily Hancock
Nottingham University

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