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, 39 (7), 1317-31

"If Only" Counterfactual Thoughts About Exceptional Actions

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"If Only" Counterfactual Thoughts About Exceptional Actions

James E Dixon et al. Mem Cognit.

Abstract

People create counterfactual alternatives that change an exceptional action to be like a usual one (e.g., "if he had placed his usual small bet he would have lost less"), as shown in Experiment 1. Experiments 2 and 3 eliminated and reversed this well-known effect: An exceptional action is instead changed to an exceptional alternative when it leads to a better outcome. Experiments 4 and 5 show that the reversal occurs whether or not the exceptional alternative is a justified action. The results indicate that the tendency to change an exceptional action to be like a usual one is guided by the optimality of the counterfactual outcome more than the exceptionality or justifiability of the action. The implications for theories of the counterfactual imagination are discussed.

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Cited by 2 PubMed Central articles

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