Counterfactual Potency

  • Petrocelli J
  • Percy E
  • Sherman S
 et al. 
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Counterfactual thoughts typically take the form of implied or explicit if-then statements. We propose that the multiplicative combination of "if likelihood" (the degree to which the antecedent condition of the counterfactual is perceived to be likely) and "then likelihood" (the perceived conditional likelihood of the outcome of the counterfactual, given the antecedent condition) determine the strength and impact of counterfactuals. This construct, termed counterfactual potency, is a reliable predictor of the degree of influence of counterfactual thinking upon judgments of regret, causation, and responsibility. Through 4 studies, we demonstrate the predictive power of this construct in a variety of contexts and show that it plays a causal role in determining the strength of the effects of counterfactual thought. Implications of counterfactual potency as a central factor of counterfactual influence are discussed.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Counterfactual potency
  • Counterfactual thinking
  • Metacognition
  • Probability
  • Regret

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  • John V. Petrocelli

  • Elise J. Percy

  • Steven J. Sherman

  • Zakary L. Tormala

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