Counterfactual Thinking and Its Effects on Well-Being, Satisfaction, and Self –Efficacy

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Studies are examined in relation to counterfactual thinking and how it can ultimately have effects on various self-perceptions and emotions. Satisfaction among students and their grades have been linked with counterfactual thinking (consideration of "might-have-been" alternatives to reality). Movement of direction is also considered, specifically when considering rape victims and their thoughts of what they could have done to prevent the outcome, presumably leading to self-blame. Self-Efficacy is addressed in terms of how it has broken the basic rules of effect, and how participants can learn from their mistakes and improve upon the use of counterfactual thinking. The research is mostly conclusive only for this newly emerged branch among self-efficacy research, counterfactual thinking has shown significant affects how we can influence our thoughts on events after the fact that they have occurred, therefore affecting our emotions.

Counterfactual Thinking and its Effect on Well-Being, Satisfaction, and Self–Efficacy

The past can never be changed for any of us, yet we as humans have the cognitive ability to contemplate the “what if” questions of past events. All events seem to trigger after-the-fact thinking, some may be positive and some may be negative. For example, someone who has just gone through a very traumatic event might ask “What would have happened if…” or “I could have been…”, these questions can end in many different ways, but the fact that we ask ourselves these questions implies that cognitive thinking can influence how we perceive the possible outcomes of a situation after the fact. Counterfactual thinking is a process by which we evaluate how we would do things differently, and while it can have a positive spin, more often than not it is a psychological mechanism that causes us to harbor feelings of disappointment and regret. Why is this important to study? This is an important aspect of human cognitive ability that should be studied and also how it can be applied in the world. Studies have shown that imagining alternate outcomes of past events can result in negative emotions (Roese, 1997). Conversely, other research has demonstrated that “separate beneficial effects” (Roese, 133) may also emerge from counterfactual thinking. Specifically, thoughts of what might have been may suggest paths to what may yet be. Most research denotes that there are emotional effects from counterfactual thinking, varying from positive to negative. Since there is much controversy of whether there are benefits or negative consequences when engaging in counterfactual thinking, this paper will be reviewing some of the key effects of counterfactual thinking concerning: well-being of rape victims, satisfaction among students and their grades, impacts on self-efficacy and individualistic self esteem differences.

Let us begin our review of the literature by defining some key terms. According to Roese (1997), counterfactual is defined as “alternative versions of the past” more specifically the defining feature of a counterfactual is the "falsity" of its precursor, meaning that both the antecedent and the consequent are false (p. 134). More so, counterfactuals can move in two directions (McMullen, 1997; Roese, 1994; Medvec & Savistsky, 1997; Branscombe, et al., 2003): upwards counterfactuals, in which alternative circumstances are evaluated better than reality (thinking that your wedding could have been held at a more expensive reception hall or that you could have done better on a test) and downward counterfactuals, in which alternate circumstances are evaluated worse than reality (thinking that your wedding could have been ruined if it had rained or that you could have failed the exam). The debate in the midst of this research is whether or not counterfactual thinking is beneficial or harmful. So far data has shown that upward counterfactuals (thinking it could have been better) is exercised more so than downward...
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