Emotional intensity in episodic autobiographical memory and counterfactual thinking

Conscious Cogn. 2017 Feb:48:283-291. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2016.12.013. Epub 2017 Jan 9.


Episodic counterfactual thoughts-imagined alternative ways in which personal past events might have occurred-are frequently accompanied by intense emotions. Here, participants recollected positive and negative autobiographical memories and then generated better and worse episodic counterfactual events from those memories. Our results suggest that the projected emotional intensity during the simulated remembered/imagined event is significantly higher than but typically positively related to the emotional intensity while remembering/imagining the event. Furthermore, repeatedly simulating counterfactual events heightened the emotional intensity felt while simulating the counterfactual event. Finally, for both the emotional intensity accompanying the experience of remembering/imagining and the projected emotional intensity during the simulated remembered/imagined event, the emotional intensity of negative memories was greater than the emotional intensity of upward counterfactuals generated from them but lower than the emotional intensity of downward counterfactuals generated from them. These findings are discussed in relation to clinical work and functional theories of counterfactual thinking.

Keywords: Autobiographical; Counterfactual; Emotion; Episodic; Intensity; Memory; Recall.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult