Counterfactual Thinking

Counterfactual thinking in judgment and decision making occurs when the decision maker considers or imagines outcomes of a decision that could have occurred but did not. For example, a patient who experiences a surgical complication that results in disability might easily imagine counter-factual worlds in which his outcome was different. A great deal of theoretical and empirical work on counterfactual thinking in decision making has its genesis in the seminal work of Kahneman and Miller on norm theory.


In most decisions, there are many counterfactual outcomes and several different ways that counter-factual outcomes can be imagined to occur. First, in decisions under uncertainty, chance factors (the “state of the world”) could be imagined to have been different. For example, the surgical patient might imagine that his ...

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