On counterfactual thoughts, regret and rumination: the investigation of a ground breaking theoretical framework in a laboratory and a naturalistic context

01 January 2019 → 31 December 2022
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Social sciences
    • Biological psychology
    • Psychophysiology
    • Motivation and emotion
  • Medical and health sciences
    • Behavioural sciences
    • Biological psychiatry
counterfactual thoughts
Project description

The process of mentally generating alternative outcomes to a factual state of affairs is called
counterfactual thinking (CFT). Specifically, if one imagines that another personal choice would have
led to a better outcome (i.e., upward self-referent CFT), (s)he may experience regret. Regret – which
entails self-blame and is strongly associated with negative mood states – is found to play a pivotal
role in the development of distress. However, fundamental research is currently lacking to
understand the relationship between feelings of regret and depressive symptomatology.
In the current project, a ground-breaking theoretical framework is proposed. This framework will be
empirically tested in a laboratory context (objective 1 and 2), and attentional control will be
experimentally manipulated (objective 2) to validate its proposed causal role as the cognitive
mechanism responsible for upward self-referent CFT, regret, and rumination interplays during
decision-making. Moreover, in a naturalistic context (objective 3), it will be investigated whether
upward self-referent CFT and regret contribute to the development of depressive symptoms, via
increased rumination due to regret.
The studies performed within the project will have a high scientific value with an important link
towards a socially relevant up-to-date research topic, namely the abundance of choice we all have
and the associated feelings of regret these choice alternatives may elicit.