Counterfactuals, causal attributions, and the hindsight bias: A conceptual integration

Neal J. Roese*, James M. Olson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

165 Scopus citations


Although past theory and research have suggested that counterfactual thoughts (representations of alternatives to past outcomes) weaken the hindsight bias (after-the-fact exaggeration of an outcome's a priori likelihood), the present research shows the opposite (i.e., positive) relation. Experiment 1 demonstrated that counterfactual thinking can heighten the hindsight bias, and that the effect of counterfactuals on causal inferences can account for this relation. Experiment 2 indicated that postoutcome elaboration of the causal linkage between an antecedent and outcome is essential for the hindsight bias, and that this bias may be redefined to include postoutcome certainty regarding "what should have been" as well as what was. Experiment 3 provided more direct evidence that causal inferences mediate the facilitative effect of counterfactual thinking on the hindsight bias.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-227
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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