Counterfactual closeness and predicted affect

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Empirical research on counterfactual thinking has found a closeness effect: people report higher negative affect if an actual outcome is close to a better counterfactual outcome. However, it remains unclear what actually is a “close” miss. In three experiments that manipulate close counterfactuals, closeness effects were found only when closeness was unambiguously defined either with respect to a contrasted alternative, or with respect to a categorical boundary. In a real task people failed to report greater negative affect when encountering a close numerical miss, while they predicted greater negative affect hypothetically. These results show that counterfactual closeness effects on affect depend on closeness being accessible and unambiguously defined.

Keywords: Closeness; Counterfactual thinking; Folk psychology; Mutability

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Psychology, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria

Publication date: May 1, 2011

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