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Mem Cognit. 2011 Oct;39(7):1317-31. doi: 10.3758/s13421-011-0101-4.

"If only" counterfactual thoughts about exceptional actions.

Author information

1
Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.

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.

PMID:
21547605
DOI:
10.3758/s13421-011-0101-4
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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