Past research has found that when people imagine how an outcome might have turned out differently, their "if only" thoughts consistently focus on particular types of antecedent conditions. The authors propose that one principle people follow is to focus on an antecedent that fails to correspond in magnitude to the imagined counterfactual outcome. Specifically, they propose that people focus on such antecedents and change them in the direction of increasing correspondence to the imagined counterfactual outcome. In a series of four experiments, they find evidence that people follow the principle of magnitude correspondence and that it is independent of previously identified principles in counterfactual thinking such as tendencies to focus on exceptional rather than normal antecedents and tendencies to focus on antecedents that correspond to the actual outcome in normality or valence.

D. Sim and Michael Morris
Journal Article
Publication Date
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

Full Citation

Sim, D. and Michael Morris
. “Representativeness and counterfactual thinking: The principle that antecedent and outcome correspond in magnitude.”
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
, (January 01, 1998):