Effect of counterfactual and factual thinking on causal judgements

Thinking and Reasoning 9 (3):245 – 265 (2003)
The significance of counterfactual thinking in the causal judgement process has been emphasized for nearly two decades, yet no previous research has directly compared the relative effect of thinking counterfactually versus factually on causal judgement. Three experiments examined this comparison by manipulating the task frame used to focus participants' thinking about a target event. Prior to making judgements about causality, preventability, blame, and control, participants were directed to think about a target actor either in counterfactual terms (what the actor could have done to change the outcome) or in factual terms (what the actor had done that led to the outcome). In each experiment, the effect of counterfactual thinking did not differ reliably from the effect of factual thinking on causal judgement. Implications for research on causal judgement and mental representation are discussed.
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