UBC Theses and Dissertations
Looking on the bright side : downward counterfactual thinking and coping with stressful life events White, Katherine
Past research on counterfactual thinking suggests that downward counterfactuals are not frequently generated in response to negative events. An interrelated set of 5 studies examined whether, and under what conditions, people generate more downward than upward counterfactuals in response to stressful life events. Study 1 found that those with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome generated more downward than upward counterfactuals regarding their condition. Study 2 found that, in response to the events of September 11th, people tended to generate more downward than upward counterfactuals, particularly when they were motivated to make themselves feel better. In Study 3, in which motives were manipulated, those motivated by self-enhancement generated more downward counterfactuals than those motivated by self-improvement or those given no motives. Furthermore, European-Canadians (who are presumably more motivated to feel good about the self) generated more downward counterfactuals than Asian Canadians. Study 4 found no significant difference between the number of upward and downward counterfactuals recalled for mild vs. severe negative events. Once again European-Canadians generated more downward than upward counterfactuals, whereas Asian- Canadians did not demonstrate this tendency, providing further support for the notion that those who are motivated to feel good about the self generate more downward counterfactuals. These cultural differences in counterfactual thinking were more pronounced in response to severe than mild negative life events. Moreover, participants reported less negative moods, more positive moods, and more affect-regulation motives associated with downward counterfactuals than with upward counterfactuals. Finally, in Study 5, those who were not given the opportunity to affirm important values generated more downward than upward counterfactuals, whereas those who completed a selfaffirmation task did not demonstrate this tendency. Taken together, the results advance our understanding of downward counterfactual thinking in response to stressful life events, and suggest that this tendency is related to the desire to repair moods and see the self in a positive light.
Item Citations and Data