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Temporal and causal order effects in thinking about what might have been

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When people think counterfactually about what might have been different for a sequence of events, they are influenced by the order in which the events occurred. They tend to mentally undo the most recent event in a temporal sequence of two events. But they tend to mentally undo the first event in a causal sequence of four events. We report the results of two experiments that show that the temporal and causal order effects are not dependent on the number of events in the sequence. Our first experiment, with 300 participants, shows that the temporal order effect occurs for sequences with four events as well as for sequences with two events. Our second experiment, with 372 participants, shows that the causal order effect occurs for sequences with two events as well as for sequences with four events. We discuss the results in terms of the mental representations that people construct of temporal and causal sequences.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Malaga, Malaga, Spain 2: University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Publication date: October 1, 2002


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