Causal attribution and counterfactual thinking – when does performing one facilitate performance of the other

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When do causal attribution and counterfactual thinking facilitate one another, and when do the two responses overlap? Undergraduates (N = 78) both explained and undid, in each of two orders, events that were described either with their potential causes or not. The time to perform either response was recorded. Overall, mutation response times were shorter when performed after an attribution was made than before, while attribution response times did not vary as a consequence of sequence. Depending on whether the causes of the target events were described in the scenario or not, respondents undid the actor and assigned causality to another antecedent, or pointed to the actor for both responses. These findings suggest that counterfactual mutation is most likely to be facilitated by attribution, and that mutation and attribution responses are most likely to overlap when no information about potential causes of the event is provided.

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