Counterfactual thoughts of "what might have been" have been shown to influence emotional responses to outcomes. The present investigation extends this research by proposing a model of how categorical cutoff points, or arbitrary values that impose qualitative boundaries on quantitative outcomes, induce counterfactual thoughts and influence individuals' satisfaction. In particular, just making a cutoff for a category is hypothesized to elicit downward counterfactual comparisons, boosting satisfaction, whereas just missing a cutoff prompts upward counterfactual thoughts, decreasing satisfaction. In some circumstances, this asymmetry can reverse the usual relationship between objective outcome and satisfaction, causing people who do objectively better to feel worse than those they outperform. This hypothesis is supported by the results of 1 naturalistic study and 2 scenario experiments.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science