Publication Details

Hammell, C. & Chan, A. YC. (2016). Improving physical task performance with counterfactual and prefactual thinking. PLoS One, 11 (12),


Counterfactual thinking (reflecting on ªwhat might have beenº) has been shown to enhance future performance by translating information about past mistakes into plans for future action. Prefactual thinking (imagining ªwhat might be if. . .º) may serve a greater preparative function than counterfactual thinking as it is future-orientated and focuses on more controllable features, thus providing a practical script to prime future behaviour. However, whether or not this difference in hypothetical thought content may translate into a difference in actual task performance has been largely unexamined. In Experiment 1 (n = 42), participants performed trials of a computer-simulated physical task, in between which they engaged in either task-related hypothetical thinking (counterfactual or prefactual) or an unrelated filler task (control). As hypothesised, prefactuals contained more controllable features than counterfactuals. Moreover, participants who engaged in either form of hypothetical thinking improved significantly in task performance over trials compared to participants in the control group. The difference in thought content between counterfactuals and prefactuals, however, did not yield a significant difference in performance improvement. Experiment 2 (n = 42) replicated these findings in a dynamic balance task environment. Together, these findings provide further evidence for the preparatory function of counterfactuals, and demonstrate that prefactuals share this same functional characteristic.



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