Cognition and context in counterfactual thinking - POCTI/PSI/42215/2001 (2002 - 2005)

Project Leader:

Ana Cristina Quelhas


Project's Summary:

People often engage in thoughts of how negative outcomes may turned out differently if only a past factual event did not occurred or if only a particular event did in fact occurred. This frequent cognitive activity, called counterfactual thinking, seems to have an important role concerning either the preparation of future better results or to serve the maintenance of affective balance after failure (e.g. Roese and Olson, 1995).

Based on Phil Johnson-Laird's mental model theory (e.g. Johnson-Laird, 1983, Johnson-Laird & Byrne, 1991), Byrne (1989) argued that conditional inference is central to our ability to think hypothetically and it provides a crucial link between logical deduction and imaginary thought, between cognition and emotion (Byrne, 1996).

Based on the theoretical framework defined by the intersection of these two cognitive paradigms (mental models theory and counterfactual thinking) this research intend to produce a detailed analysis from the cognitive processes evolved on conditional reasoning, counterfactual thinking and causality. Within this theoretical framework, the authors will conduct a series of experiments, from a more fundamental research approach, to a more applied research methodology, aiming to explain the relevance of context (individual emotions and external context) upon cognitive and emotional processes.


Project’s aims:

1.To explore reasoning with factual and counterfactual conditionals based on mental models theory (e.g., Byrne & amp; Quelhas, 1999; Quelhas & amp; Byrne, 2000);
2.To explore the relationship between cognition and emotion through the interaction effect of counterfactual and causal reasoning (McElleney & amp; Byrne, 1999);
3.To explore individual mood effect on counterfactual thinking;
4.To study counterfactual thinking and social judgments about criminal behaviour.
The total set of studies will enrol about 1500 undergraduates as participants. For the first goal, dependent measures (number of endorsements and latencies) will be registered with E-prime in a laboratory setting; for the second goal dependent measures (expectancies, emotion and control) will be rated on scales directly constructed and validated following the common procedure reported; for the third goal, individual mood will be accessed by the BDI (Beck Depression Inventory) and counterfactual thinking direction will be classified. Dependent measures (expectancies, emotion and control) will be assessed as in the second goal; for the fourth goal all dependent measures will be rated on scales developed by the authors.

Results will be discussed in a theoretical framework integrating these types of reasoning in a single theoretical model based upon mental models theory.

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