Dispositional optimism weakly predicts upward, rather than downward, counterfactual thinking: A prospective correlational study using episodic recall. Academic Article uri icon


  • Counterfactual thoughts center on how the past could have been different. Such thoughts may be differentiated in terms of direction of comparison, such that upward counterfactuals focus on how the past could have been better, whereas downward counterfactuals focus on how the past could have been worse. A key question is how such past-oriented thoughts connect to future-oriented individual differences such as optimism. Ambiguities surround a series of past studies in which optimism predicted relatively greater downward counterfactual thinking. Our main study (N = 1150) and six supplementary studies (N = 1901) re-examined this link to reveal a different result, a weak relation between optimism and upward (rather than downward) counterfactual thinking. These results offer an important correction to the counterfactual literature and are informative for theory on individual differences in optimism.

published proceedings

  • PLoS One

author list (cited authors)

  • Gamlin, J., Smallman, R., Epstude, K., & Roese, N. J.

complete list of authors

  • Gamlin, Jessica||Smallman, Rachel||Epstude, Kai||Roese, Neal J

editor list (cited editors)

  • Jonason, P. K.

publication date

  • January 2020