Episodic Counterfactual Thinking
Our tendency to engage in episodic counterfactual thinking—namely, imagining alternative ways in which past personal events could have occurred but did not—is ubiquitous. Although widely studied by cognitive and social psychologists, this autobiographically based variety of counterfactual thought has been connected only recently to research on the cognitive and neuroscientific basis of episodic memory and mental simulation. In the current article, we offer an empirical characterization of episodic counterfactual thinking by contrasting it with related varieties of mental simulation along three dimensions: temporal context, degree of episodic detail, and modal profile (i.e., perceived possibility or impossibility). In so doing, we offer a practical strategy to navigate the nascent literature on episodic counterfactual thinking within the context of other mental simulations, and we argue that the evidence surveyed strongly indicates that although connected along the aforementioned dimensions, episodic counterfactual thinking is a psychological process different from episodic memory, episodic future thinking, and semantic counterfactual thinking.
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