Report on the EASP Meeting: Counterfactual thinking in causality, emotion, communication, and behavior
12.10.2016, by Sibylle Classen in meeting report
Aix-en-Provence, France (June 1 – June 4, 2016)
In early June the Jesuit cultural center in Aix-en-Provence (France) was the location of a small group meeting on counterfactual thinking. It was the second time that this topic was central to an EASP small group meeting. Already in 2001 a meeting at the same location focused on counterfactual thinking. Since then research on counterfactual thoughts has moved forward. New perspectives were developed. Most importantly, psychological subfields other than social and cognitive psychology gained an interest in thoughts about what might have been. Therefore, this year’s meeting provided an excellent opportunity for discussing these latest developments.
Twenty-six researchers from social, cognitive, developmental, health, and communication psychology participated in the meeting. The central themes of the meeting focused on the role of counterfactuals in causal inferences, their effect on behavior, attributional processes, affect, and communication. In addition, one session focused on the development of counterfactuals and what the developmental pattern of these thoughts tell us about the general role these thoughts play for attribution and affect.
The overarching questions were to what extent counterfactuals are functional for individuals, how counterfactual conditionals are mentally represented and how they are used to infer causality. The perspectives on these questions and the tools to answer those diverged between researchers coming from different areas of psychology. However, what became clear is that the different sub-areas of psychology can tremendously profit from collaborating with each other.
A special session in honor of Vittorio Girotto who recently passed away was also part of the meeting. Ruth Byrne (Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland) described her experiences in working with him as well as his contributions to the field. His long-time collaborator Donatella Ferrante (Università degli Studi di Trieste, Italy) told us about her experiences with Vittorio in Trieste, and presented data from a joint research project. Jonathan Grainger, director of the cognitive psychology laboratory in Aix when Vittorio worked there, shared some memories of times spent together. .