Counterfactual Conditionals and Normative Rules


Counterfactual thinking is the consideration of how things could have turned out differently, usually taking the form of counterfactual conditionals. This experiment examined the psychological mechanisms that transform counterfactuals into deontic guidance rules for the future. We examined how counterfactual thinking translates into deontic guidance rules by asking participants to infer these deontic conclusions from the counterfactual premises. Participants were presented with a vignette and a counterfactual conditional, and assigned to either a control condition or a suppression condition in which they were additionally presented with conflicting normative rules. The presence of conflicting norms reduced the likelihood of positive deontic conclusions being endorsed and increased the likelihood of negative deontic conclusions being endorsed. Future intentionality and regret intensity ratings were reduced in the suppression condition. The same conditions that affect normative inference also affect regret and future planning, suggesting similar cognitive mechanisms underlie these processes.

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