Radu George BÂRLIBA* & Ion DAFINOIU
“Al. I. Cuza” University of Iaşi, Iaşi, Romania
Counterfactual thoughts are mental representations of alternatives regarding past events, which play an important role in the decision-making process. Previous research has shown that people with affective disorders, such as depression, have difficulties in generating counterfactual alternatives. The aim of the study was to investigate counterfactual thinking in a clinical sample, by means of five predictors (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD, schizoid and schizotypal personality) measured by Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory III. We measured the patients’ ability to generate upward and downward counterfactual alternatives by means of Counterfactual Thinking for Negative Events Scale, as well as the hindsight bias effect (exaggeration of beliefs regarding a result), asking them to assess retrospectively the possible end of an audio script. 300 patients aged between 18 and 65 years old were randomised within two experimental groups (positive and negative ending) and a control group. We assumed that patients who listened to the positive or negative ending would overestimate retrospectively the outcome of the script. Data analysis pointed significant connections between depression (β= .18 p< .01), schizoid personality (β= -.24 p< .01), schizotypal personality (β= .15 p< .01) and upward counterfactual thinking. Depression and PTSD predicted 9% of the downward counterfactual thinking. Patients in both experimental groups overestimated the ending of the script, reflecting the hindsight bias effect. A positive correlation was found between upward counterfactual thinking and hindsight bias effect (r= .30; p<.05). Discussions focus on the clinical implications of the results.
Keywords: counterfactual thinking, hindsight bias, depression, anxiety, schizoid personality, schizotypal personality.