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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The undoing experience : antecedents, consequences, and individual differences Davis , Christopher G.


Data from role-play studies suggest that when negative events occur, people tend to mentally simulate alternative, counterfactual scenarios wherein the event does not occur. The present research investigates the extent to which individuals generate counterfactuals following their own significant life events. Data from 174 undergraduates, each describing two of their most significant life events, indicate that 82% of events were cognitively undone at least "sometimes" within the first month after the event's occurrence (reported retrospectively). Factors that predicted an absence of undoing included events rated (by subjects) as less significant at the time of their occurrence, not the subject's fault, and inevitable. While two personality constructs, neuroticism and ruminativeness, as well as the situational factors noted above, predicted how frequently events were undone within the first month of their occurrence, only the personality constructs predicted frequency of current undoing. The frequency of undoing at the time of the event was also correlated with subjects' role-playing estimates of how frequently they would undo a hypothetical scenario, while current frequency of undoing was correlated with how long role-playing subjects estimated they would continue to undo the hypothetical scenario. In sum, these results suggest that situational and personality factors play different and independent roles in the undoing process. Situational factors were most predictive of the likelihood and initial frequency of undoing, while dispositional factors were most predictive of the persistence of the undoing thoughts.

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