Media Exposure, Perceived Similarity, and Counterfactual Thinking: Why Did the Public Grieve When Princess Diana Died?1


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    The authors thank Samantha Scarnato and Ivy Garcia for their help in collecting and coding the data. The authors also thank Molly Lynch for her helpful comments and suggestions at various stages of conducting this study and for her comments, as well as the comments of Jo Meier on a previous draft of this paper.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David R. Pillow, Division of Behavioral and Cultural Sciences, UTSA, San Antonio, TX 78249-0652. e-mail:


Judgments of perceived similarity to Princess Diana and counterfactual thinking, in conjunction with media exposure, were examined as competing explanations that might account for the public's affective responses to the fatal accident of Princess Diana. Shortly after the accident, 222 introductory psychology students were surveyed. Results indicate that each of these constructs contributed uniquely to predict negative affective responding. An interaction was found such that persons high in perceived similarity had high levels of counterfactual ruminations and negative responding, regardless of their media exposure, whereas media exposure largely predicted the responses of those low in perceived similarity. Possible causal sequences involving these constructs, social comparison theory, and work on media-related stress are discussed.