Counterfactual thinking facilitates behavioral intentions

Rachel Smallman*, Neal J. Roese

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


People often ponder what might have been, and these counterfactual inferences have been linked to behavior regulation. Counterfactuals may enhance performance by either a content-specific pathway (via shift in behavioral intentions) and/or a content-neutral pathway (via mindsets or motivation). Three experiments provided new specification of the content-specific pathway. A sequential priming paradigm revealed that counterfactual judgments facilitated RTs to complete behavioral intention judgments relative to control judgments and to a no-judgment baseline (Experiment 1). This facilitation effect was found only for intention judgments that matched the information content of the counterfactual (Experiment 2) and only for intention judgments as opposed to a different judgment that nevertheless focused on the same information content (Experiment 3). These findings clarify the content-specific pathway by which counterfactuals influence behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)845-852
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • Counterfactual thinking
  • Goal cognition
  • Intentions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Counterfactual thinking facilitates behavioral intentions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this