Prefactual thoughts: Mental simulations about what might happen

Kai Epstude*, Annika Scholl, Neal J. Roese

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Thought about the future can take many forms, from goal planning to intentions and from fantasies to magical thinking. The term prefactual has guided some past research, yet its potential impact has been hampered by inconsistency in its definition. Here we define prefactual thought as a conditional (if-then) proposition about an action-outcome linkage that may (or may not) take place in the future, such as "If I take action X, it will lead to outcome Y." A prefactual embraces a causal belief that an action (if taken) will result in the outcome with a high degree of certainty. A form of mental simulation, prefactuals often derive from counterfactuals (which focus on the past) and feed into intentions (which center on the future). This article provides an overview of extant findings, draws connections to goal pursuit and affect regulation, and clarifies the value of the prefactual construct for conceptualizations of prospection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-56
Number of pages9
JournalReview of General Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Counterfactual
  • Expectancy
  • Mental simulation
  • Prefactuals
  • Prospection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Prefactual thoughts: Mental simulations about what might happen'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this