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Counterfactuals and inquiries after homicide

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In England, mandatory inquiries following homicides by psychiatric patients consume a significant amount of resources but their efficacy is uncertain. Social psychologists have produced a theory of cognitive functioning called counterfactual thinking that may help us to understand better how inquiries work. Counterfactual thoughts express a past that is possible but untrue. Counterfactual theory describes a number of mutability rules that determine which events are more likely to be changed when events are examined retrospectively.Events that are more available, such as actions and exceptions (as opposed to inactions and norms), are more likely to be mutated. Inquiries also have explicit and implicit purposes that influence the counterfactuals generated. The mutability of an event is not based on an assessment of the actual influence of that event in causing an outcome. The changing of events that were not actually instrumental in determining the final event in a sequence can be dysfunctional, as inquiries may sometimes alter good decision rules to bad ones on this basis. Counterfactual theory helps to explain how inquiries may be subject to biases and errors of judgement that can manifest themselves in incorrect perceptions and the misallocation of blame.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2001

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