Thinking and Reasoning 8 (1):41 – 67 (2002)

Ruth Mary Josephine Byrne
Trinity College, Dublin
Semifactual thinking about what might have been the same, e.g., ''even if Philip had not chosen the chocolate ice-cream sundae, he would have developed an allergic reaction'' has been neglected compared to counterfactual thinking about what might have been different, e.g., ''if only Philip had not chosen the chocolate ice-cream sundae, he would not have developed an allergic reaction''. We report the first systematic comparison of the two sorts of thinking in two experiments. The first experiment showed that counterfactual ''if only'' thoughts about an antecedent event lead people to judge the event to be more causally related to the outcome, whereas semifactual ''even if'' thoughts lead people to judge the antecedent event to be less causally related to the outcome. In addition, the experiment showed that generating counterfactual ''if only'' thoughts increases emotional reactions such as regret, whereas generating semifactual ''even if'' thoughts decreases such reactions. The second experiment, along with a replication experiment, showed that when people complete ''if only'' and ''even if'' sentence stems, they focus on different alternative antecedents to the outcome: ''if only'' thoughts focus on alternatives that would undo the outcome whereas ''even if'' thoughts focus on alternatives that would not undo it, from among a set of available alternative antecedents in which either all, some, or none would undo the outcome. The implications of the results for theories of thinking about what might have been are discussed.
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DOI 10.1080/13546780143000125
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References found in this work BETA

Fact, Fiction and Forecast.Edward H. Madden - 1955 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 16 (2):271-273.
Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky, Eds.Daniel Kahneman - 1982 - In Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic & Amos Tversky (eds.), Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. Cambridge University Press.
Even If.Jonathan Bennett - 1982 - Linguistics and Philosophy 5 (3):403 - 418.
Crediting Causality.Barbara A. Spellman - 1997 - Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 126 (4):323-348.

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Citations of this work BETA

Indicatives, Concessives, and Evidential Support.Igor Douven & Sara Verbrugge - 2012 - Thinking and Reasoning 18 (4):480-499.

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Recognition of Proofs in Conditional Reasoning.John Best - 2005 - Thinking and Reasoning 11 (4):326 – 348.


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