He, Yimin (2017-06). Improving Workplace Safety by Thinking About What Might Have Been: To What Extent, Why, and When Does Counterfactual Thinking Influence Workplace Safety Behavior?. Master's Thesis. Thesis uri icon


  • Human information processing theories of workplace safety suggest that cognition is an antecedent of safety behavior. However, little research has directly tested cognitive variables as predictors of workplace safety within the industrial/organizational psychology research domain. Counterfactual thinking is defined as cognitions about what might have been. Social psychologists propose that counterfactual thinking can be functional as it alters future behavior in a manner that is consistent with better outcomes. The purpose of the current study was to examine the influence of counterfactual thinking on safety behavior and mediators and moderators of that relationship. Safety knowledge and motivation are hypothesized to be two explanatory mechanisms for this relationship, and safety locus of control is proposed to enhance this relationship. A sample of 240 medical providers from a hospital in Guizhou Province of China responded to three surveys over a four-month time frame. Results showed that overall and upward counterfactual thinking (reflecting on how past events could have been better) were positively related to safety compliance and participation, which were mediated by safety knowledge but not by safety motivation. Furthermore, upward counterfactuals were found to be more strongly related to safety compliance and participation and safety knowledge than downward counterfactuals (reflecting on how past events could have been worse). Contrary to expectations, these relationships were not dependent on safety locus of control. In sum, the findings demonstrated that counterfactual thinking is positively associated with safety behavior and safety knowledge, expanding the variables related to workplace safety and laying some initial groundwork for new safety interventions.

publication date

  • June 2017