When doing better means feeling worse: The effects of categorical cutoff points on counterfactual thinking and satisfaction

Victoria Husted Medvec*, Kenneth Savitsky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1284-1296
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Volume72
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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