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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An inquiry into the psychology of counterfactuals Read, Daniel


The relationship between events and the way people imagine they "might have happened" was explored. A synthesis of norm theory (Kahneman & Miller, 1986) and slippability (Hofstadter, 1979) incorporating the concept of a narrative level at which events with a high probability of evoking imagined alternatives was proposed as a framework for study. To test a number of hypotheses derived from this theoretical framework, a recognition task was used: subjects first read stories and then indicated which of a number of alternatives to the stories they had thought of while reading. It is demonstrated that events at the narrative level have a higher probability of being changed in imagination than other events. In addition, while the outcomes of suspenseful situations are readily changed, their premises are not. Overall, the recogntion technique is shown to be a useful method for determining the availability of alternatives.

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