Comparing the functional benefits of counterfactual and prefactual thinking: the content-specific and content-neutral pathways

Publication Name

Thinking and Reasoning


We investigated the preparatory benefits of counterfactual and prefactual thinking towards cognitive task performance. Experiment 1 replicated the robust finding that individuals focus more on mutating internally controllable elements when thinking prefactually about their future task performance than when thinking counterfactually about a past performance. We also replicated the finding that counterfactual thinking was associated with significant performance improvement in an anagram task. However, despite their greater focus on internally controllable thoughts, individuals who generated prefactuals showed no performance improvement. In Experiment 2, we examined the relative performance-enhancing roles of counterfactuals and prefactuals in a subsequent unrelated analytical reasoning task. Only individuals who completed a counterfactual priming task performed significantly better than those in a control group did. These results corroborate extant findings of the preparatory advantage of counterfactuals. They also raise questions regarding some ways in which the preparatory functions of counterfactual and prefactual thinking have been conceptualised.

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