Coming to grips with the past: effect of repeated simulation on the perceived plausibility of episodic counterfactual thoughts.
When people revisit previous experiences, they often engage in episodic counterfactual thinking: mental simulations of alternative ways in which personal past events could have occurred. The present study employed a novel experimental paradigm to examine the influence of repeated simulation on the perceived plausibility of upward, downward, and neutral episodic counterfactual thoughts. Participants were asked to remember negative, positive, and neutral autobiographical memories. One week later, they self-generated upward, downward, and neutral counterfactual alternatives to those memories. The following day, they resimulated each of those counterfactuals either once or four times. The results indicate that repeated simulation of upward, downward, and neutral episodic counterfactual events decreases their perceived plausibility while increasing ratings of the ease, detail, and valence of the simulations. This finding suggests a difference between episodic counterfactual thoughts and other kinds of self-referential simulations. Possible implications of this finding for pathological and nonpathological anxiety are discussed.
De Brigard, F; Szpunar, KK; Schacter, DL
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