Counterfactual thought: what it is and how it expresses itself

Do you know what counterfactual thinking is? And what do you know about pre-factual thinking? On the one hand, the two concepts are linked and, on the other hand, actions closely linked to our personality.

Counterfactual thinking it consists of the mental simulation of different alternatives which may have occurred in the past and which ultimately did not, while prefactual thinking is the simulation of potential alternatives to a future situation.

    What is counterfactual thinking?

    As we have already introduced, counterfactual thinking consists of the mental simulation of different alternatives which may have occurred in the past, but which ultimately did not take place. For example, imagine the places where you could have worked in the art world that was your passion, if you had not ultimately chosen to go into finance.

    We have mentioned that on the contrary, prefactual thinking consists of mental simulation of potential alternatives to the same situation, but which have not occurred. For example, going to a family birthday party and imagining all the possible scenarios in terms of guests coming or not, food there, gifts, etc.

    In this article, we will talk about the characteristics that surround counterfactual thinking, prefactual thinking, and finally a bit of its relation to the different personality traits that can have and be developed by human beings.

    Counterfactual thinking, prefactual thinking and personality

    It makes sense to think that the type of thoughts we develop in our heads most often may depend on the type of personality we have. In turn, these thoughts can generate a series of emotions and sensations.

    The article Looking Behind and Looking Ahead: Personality Differences in Counterfactual and Prefactual Thinking, recently published in the journal Imagination, Cognition and Personality, talks about the relationship of these two types of thoughts and personality traits, And what emotions can be generated from these thoughts.

    The article places counterfactual and prefactual thinking in the context of different parameters or personality traits, the so-called “Big Five Personality Traits”.

      The five major personality traits

      The five major personality traits, commonly referred to in English as Big Five Personality Traits, are the five elements or personality traits from which the personality itself is studied.

      This Big Five concept was postulated by British psychologist Raymond Bernard Cattell (England March 20, 1905 – USA, February 2, 1998), the work focused on the study of intelligence and personality.

      These traits are also known as the “dimensions” of the personality. These five factors are: factor O (linked to the ability to open up to new experiences), factor C (linked to responsibility), factor I (called extraversion), factor A (for which refers to kindness) and finally the N factor (linked to neuroticism or emotional instability). If we put all the factors together, we get the acronym “OCEAN”.

      On the other hand, these traits are not pure, but in turn, each consists of a set of more specific personality traits.

      For example, factor A (related to kindness), in itself includes respect, tolerance and tranquility, factor C (related to sense of responsibility), in turn constitutes discipline, organization and ability to concentrate, and the N factor (related to neuroticism and emotional instability) includes characteristics of obsession, insecurity, anxiety, restlessness, among others.

      What do these types of thinking have to do with personality?

      Thus, the article in the journal Imagination, Cognition and Personality, highlights the relationship between counterfactual and pre-factual thinking, and the five personality traits, and highlights how people differ in the way they think. . Think about which personality traits are most exacerbated.

      The study showed that counterfactual thinking it is more common in people with a high degree of neuroticism (N factor) and low friendliness (factor A).

      In other words, these more sociable people have a greater tendency to imagine the possibilities of things that could have happened that, instead, did not happen. In addition, these people are usually people who focus their attention on avoiding possible threats, so that they analyze a lot of situations from the past.

      In contrast, the study found that prefactual thinking is more common among people with fewer neurotic tendencies, greater kindness, and greater extraversion.

      In other words, people who are less neurotic and have more social skills, they tend to think more about potential alternatives to future situations that have not yet occurred.

      relevant data

      Additionally, repentance for actions taken in the past has been shown to lead to what have been called hot emotions, which are emotions of anger, frustration, and shame.

      Interestingly, it has also been shown that people with a greater tendency to lie tend to generate more counterfactual thoughts. Indeed, some forms of lying require the imagination of an alternative to past events.

      This information supports the idea that negative emotions are closely related to “ living ” in the past and not moving forward, and positive emotions are more related to the future (future goals, dreams, potential options … .).

      Thought-related personality

      We have seen how counterfactual thinking relates to personality and, by extension, how personality (which encompasses emotions, feelings, abilities, skills, limitations, character, etc.) is closely related to type of person. thought that we develop.

      This thinking can be more focused on the past and obsolete possibilities, or more focused on the future and its potential alternatives.

      In any case, we must not forget that the personality is not a solid and pure board, but that it is. a scale of shades where you can have different traits in different quantities, And that therefore, throughout life, we will have counterfactual thinking type ideas and we will have prefactual thinking type ideas.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Bacon, AM, Clare R. Walsh, Raluca A. Briazu (2020). Looking Back and Looking to the Future: Personality Differences in Counterfactual and Pre-factual Thinking. Magazine of imagination, cognition and personality. UNITED STATES.
      • Bacon, AM, Clare R. Walsh., Martin, L. (2013). Fantastic property and counterfactual thought. Personality and individual differences (agenda). Elsevier.
      • Boele de Raad (2000). The five main factors of the personality: the psychological approach of the personality. Publishers Hogrefe and Huber. Toronto.
      • Charles G. Morris, Albert A. Maisto (2001). Introduction to psychology. Pearson Education, tenth edition.

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