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Title:The role of relevant information in functional counterfactual thinking
Author(s):Smallman, Rachel E.
Director of Research:Roese, Neal J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Roese, Neal J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Ross, Brian H.; Albarracin, Dolores; Preston, Jesse L.; Epstude, Kai
Department / Program:Psychology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Social Cognition
Counterfactual Thinking
Abstract:Although counterfactual thinking is typically activated by a negative outcome, it can have positive effects by helping to regulate and improve future behavior. Known as the content-specific pathway, these counterfactual ruminations use relevant information (i.e., information that is directly related to the problem at hand) to elicit insights about the problem, create a connection between the counterfactual and the desired behavior, and strengthen relevant behavioral intentions. The current research examines how changing the type of relevant information provided (i.e., so that it is either concrete and detailed or general and abstract) influences the relationship between counterfactual thinking and behavioral intentions. Experiments 1 and 2 found that counterfactual thinking facilitated relevant intentions when these statements involved detailed information (Experiment 1) or specific behaviors (Experiment 2) compared to general information (Experiment 1), categories of behavior, or traits (Experiment 2). Experiment 3 found that counterfactuals containing a category of behavior facilitated specific behavioral intentions, relative to counterfactuals focusing on a trait. However, counterfactuals only facilitated intentions that included specific behaviors, but not when intentions focused on categories of behaviors or traits (Experiment 4). Finally, this effect generalized to other relevant specific behaviors; a counterfactual based on one relevant specific behavior facilitated an intention based on another relevant specific behavior (Experiment 5). Together, these studies further clarify our understanding of the content-specific pathway and provide a more comprehensive understanding of functional counterfactual thinking.
Issue Date:2010-08-31
Rights Information:Copyright 2010 Rachel Elizabeth Smallman
Date Available in IDEALS:2010-08-31
Date Deposited:2010-08

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