Counterfactual thinking is a type of thinking
that involves imagining how an event
could have turned out differently. People can generate "upward counterfactuals" which involve generating mental simulation
s of how an event might have turned out better and "downward counterfactuals" which involve generating mental simulations
of how an event might have turned out worse.
Past research suggests that people tend to generate upward counterfactuals rather than downward counterfactuals, in response to negative events. However, it does seem likely that when someone is motivated to lift his or her spirits he or she might engage in downward counterfactual thinking. For example, a student who gets a lower grade than expected on an exam might say "at least I didn't fail" to feel better about the situation. This is an example of a downward counterfactual. An upward counterfactual would be if the student says "if only I had studied more", etc.