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Thinking about the past to solve problems in the future: does counterfactual thought contribute to the resolution of interpersonal conflict?

Grant number: 20/02765-8
Support type:Scholarships in Brazil - Scientific Initiation
Effective date (Start): August 01, 2020
Effective date (End): July 31, 2021
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Psychology - Cognitive Psychology
Principal researcher:Patrícia Waltz Schelini
Grantee:Anik Giovanna Barham Setti
Home Institution: Centro de Educação e Ciências Humanas (CECH). Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCAR). São Carlos , SP, Brazil


When people think about how past events could have turned out differently, or when they imagine "What if..." or "If only&" scenarios, they are thinking counterfactually. Counterfactual thoughts usually follow negative outcomes and have many functions, including emotional regulation. When interpersonal conflicts occur, people often wish things had turned out differently; however, the role of counterfactual thinking in dealing with these conflicts has not yet been investigated. In this study we will examine whether interpersonal conflict gives rise to counterfactual thoughts, and if these thoughts affect emotional regulation, either easing or complicating conflict resolution. Potential effects of aging will also be explored by examining the connection between counterfactual thinking and conflict resolution among adults and older people. Participants (10 for each age group) will be asked to complete two tasks. First, a short story describing an interpersonal conflict will be read aloud. Participants will have time to generate thoughts spontaneously, and then will be prompted to produce counterfactual thoughts. Next, participants will be asked to identify how each counterfactual thought might be related to conflict resolution. The second activity will be similar, but instead of listening to a short story, participants will be asked to describe an episode of interpersonal conflict from their own lives. Thematic and content analysis techniques will be used to examine possible relations between counterfactual thinking and conflict resolution. Quantitative methods will be used to compare the frequency of counterfactual thoughts among adults and older people, using either parametric or non-parametric procedures, depending on the sample size and normality of the data.

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