By comparing reality to what might have been, counterfactuals promote a relational processing style characterized by a tendency to consider relationships and associations among a set of stimuli. As such, counterfactual mind-sets were expected to improve performance on tasks involving the consideration of relationships and associations but to impair performance on tasks requiring novel ideas that are uninfluenced by salient associations. The authors conducted several experiments to test this hypothesis. In Experiments 1a and 1b, the authors determined that counterfactual mind-sets increase mental states and preferences for thinking styles consistent with relational thought. Experiment 2 demonstrated a facilitative effect of counterfactual mind-sets on an analytic task involving logical relationships; Experiments 3 and 4 demonstrated that counterfactual mind-sets structure thought and imagination around salient associations and therefore impaired performance on creative generation tasks. In Experiment 5, the authors demonstrated that the detrimental effect of counterfactual mind-sets is limited to creative tasks involving novel idea generation; in a creative association task involving the consideration of relationships between task stimuli, counterfactual mind-sets improved performance.
Kray, L., Adam Galinsky, and E. Wong. "Thinking within the box: The relational processing style elicited by counterfactual mind-sets." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 91, no. 1 (July 2006): 33-48.
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