Polarized imagination: Partisanship influences the direction and consequences of counterfactual thinking, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B
Four studies examine how political partisanship qualifies previously-documented regularities in people’s counterfactual thinking (N = 1,186 Democrats and Republicans). First, whereas prior work finds that people generally prefer to think about how things could have been better instead of worse (i.e., entertain counterfactuals in an upward vs. downward direction), Studies 1a–2 find that partisans are more likely to generate and endorse counterfactuals in whichever direction best aligns with their political views. Second, previous research finds that the closer someone comes to causing a negative event, the more blame that person receives; Study 3 finds that this effect is more pronounced among partisans who oppose (vs. support) a leader who “almost” caused a negative event. Thus, partisan reasoning may influence which alternatives to reality people will find most plausible, will be most likely to imagine spontaneously, and will view as sufficient grounds for blame.
Kai Epstude, Daniel Effron, Neal Roese
Epstude, Kai, Daniel Effron, and Neal Roese. 2022. Polarized imagination: Partisanship influences the direction and consequences of counterfactual thinking. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 377(20210342)