Latest results: Ferrante, Girotto, Straga & Walsh 2012

Donatella Ferrante, Vittorio Girotto, Marta Stragà, and Clare Walsh have discovered that people focus on different aspects of an event when they imagine the way it could turn out differently in the future, compared to when they imagine the way it could have turned out differently in the past. Their results are published in their article ‘Improving the past and the future: a temporal asymmetry in hypothetical thinking’ in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, and they summarise them in their abstract there as follows:

Abstract: ‘Current views of hypothetical thinking implicitly assume that the content of imaginary thoughts about the past and future should be the same. Two experiments show that, given the same experienced facts of reality, future imagination may differ from past reconstruction. When participants failed a task, their counterfactual thoughts focused on uncontrollable features of their attempt (e.g., “Things would have been better if the allocated time were longer/if I had better logic skills”). But their prefactual thoughts focused on controllable features of their ensuing endeavor (e.g., “Things will be better next time if I concentrate more/if I use another strategy”). This finding suggests that compared with prefactual thinking, counterfactual thinking may be less subject to reality checks and less likely to serve preparatory goals.’

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