Self-esteem and counterfactual thinking.

Neal J. Roese*, James M. Olson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two studies examined the relation between self-esteem and counterfactual thinking (consideration of "might-have-been" alternatives to reality). Ss imagined themselves in scenarios with another actor that resulted in either success or failure. Ss then "undid" the outcome by altering events that preceded the outcome. Following success, high self-esteem (HSE) Ss were more likely than low self-esteem (LSE) Ss to mutate their own actions. Following failure, LSE Ss were more likely than HSE Ss to mutate their own actions. Also, the structure of counterfactuals was influenced by outcome valence but not by self-esteem: Subtractive structures (in which antecedents are removed) were elicited by success, whereas additive structures (in which antecedents are added) were elicited by failure. The importance of the self and individual differences in self-esteem to counterfactual thinking is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-206
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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