Was It My Fault? Effects of Counterfactual Mutation Focus and Self-Presentation Strategy1


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    This study was facilitated by a research grant from the Department of Psychology, Monash University. I thank several anonymous reviewers of earlier drafts of the article for their helpful comments, and Paul Phelps, David MMahon, and Naomi Griffin for assistance with the study.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Christopher O. Fraser, who is now at School of Education and Social Sciences, Auckland University of Technology, Private Bag 92006, Auckland 1020, New Zealand. e-mail: chris.fraser@aut.ac.nz


A recent perspective proposes that counterfactual thinking mutates controllable events that could have prevented a specific outcome, and so provides knowledge that can be used to prevent similar outcomes in the future. This implies that counterfactual thinking does not necessarily influence causal reasoning, although they may be associated in some circumstances. Results of 2 studies reported here show that, for serious outcomes where actions of the self are antecedents and different self-actions might have prevented the outcome, there was an associated increase in self-blame. Findings from these studies also suggest that whether self-mutations are reflected in public expressions of blame will depend on whether the context favors self-serving self-presentation strategies, or mitigating strategies incorporating the face concerns of others.