PSC 152 Lecture Notes - Lecture 14: Counterfactual Thinking, Counterfactual Conditional, Empathy Gap

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Published on 15 Jun 2020
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Thinking about the past & future
Counterfactual thinking
Generation of alternatives to factual events - thoughts of “what might have been”
Ex: “if only I had studied more last night, I would have done better on the
exam”
Counterfactuals imply a causal connection
The thing you wish you had or hadn’t done must have caused the
problem
Regret
When people generate counterfactuals (“if only I had studied more..”), they often
experience the emotion of regret
When do we generate counterfactuals?
4 factors that affect counterfactual thinking
1. Closeness of the counterfactual
Closeness of counterfactual
Mr. Crane and Mr. Tees were scheduled to leave the airport on different flights,
at the same time. They traveled from town in the same taxi, were caught in a
traffic jam, & arrived at the airport 30 min after the scheduled departure time of
their time of their flights
Mr. Crane is told his flight left on time
Mr. Tees is tld his flight was delayed, & just left 5 min ago
Who’s more upset?
Can easily imagine making flight when it left 5 min ago
Makes counterfactual more attention-grabbing - heightens emotional reaction
Feel more intense negativity when we “almost” attain a good outcome
Medvec et al. 1995
Bronze medalists happier than silver medalists
Easy for silver medalists to imagine winning gold
When do we generate counterfactuals?
4 factors that affect counterfactual thinking
1. Closeness of the counterfactual
2. Exception vs. routine
Exception vs. routine
On the day of the accident, Mr. Jones left his office at the regular time. He
sometimes left early to take care of chores at his wife’s request, but this wasn’t
necessary on that day. Mr. Jones didn’t drive home by his regular route. The
weather was beautiful, & he told his co-workers he would drive along the
lakeshore to enjoy the view
Mr. Jones is killed in a car accident when a drunk teenager ran a red light
& crashed into his car
We feel worse when something bad happens b/c of an exceptional event (ex:
taking an alternate route home & getting in an accident)
Easy to imagine NOT going to the alternate route
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When do we generate counterfactuals?
4 factors that affect counterfactual thinking
1. Closeness of the counterfactual
2. Exception vs. routine
3. Actions vs. inactions
Action vs. inaction
Paul owns shares in Company A. DUring the past year he considered switching
to stock in Company B, but ultimately decided against it. He now finds out that he
would have been better off by $2500 if he had switched to stock in Company B
George used to own shares in Company B. During the past year he
switched to stock in Company A. he now finds out that he would have
been better off by $2500 if he had kept his stock in company B
Who feels more regret?
> 95% of people say George
In short term, we regret actions more than inactions… but reverse is true in long
term
Regret actions when they are short
Regret inaction when they are long
Actions more salient than inactions … but over time, salience of actions fades
Actions seem more casual - easier to undo actions
Regrettable actions can be remedied (ex: apology)
Regrettable inactions remain a mystery
When do we generate counterfactuals?
4 factors that affect counterfactual thinking
1. Closeness of the counterfactual
2. Exception vs. routine
3. Actions vs. inactions
4. Perceived controllability
Perceived controllability
Mr. Jones & the drunk teenager scenario
We rarely say, “if only the other driver wasn’t drunk …”
Not under Mr. Jones’ control
Victims of crimes
We mentally “undo” behavior of victims, but not behavior of criminals
We focus more on victim
Blaming the victim - “you shouldn’t have been out alone so late at night
We tend to feel worse when we THINK we could have done something
differently
Predicting our future feelings
Important to do so accurately - affects actual behavior & can help us make better
decisions
But how good are we at predicting how we’ll feel about some future event?
Ex: how good would you feel if you won the lottery?
Ex: how bad would you feel if you and your partner broke up?
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