Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Psychology

Advisor's Name

Kevin M. O'Neil, J.D., Ph.D.

Advisor's Title

Committee Chair

Advisor's Name

Carlton M. Waterhouse, J.D., Ph.D.

Advisor's Title

Committee Member

Advisor's Name

Ryan J. Winter, Ph.D.

Advisor's Title

Committee Member

Advisor's Name

Stephen D. Charman, Ph.D.

Advisor's Title

Committee Member

Keywords

hindsight bias, counterfactuals, causal proximity, self-referencing, jury decision-making, negligence, foreseeability

Date of Defense

7-10-2008

Abstract

The current research sought to clarify the diverging relationships between counterfactual thinking and hindsight bias observed in the literature thus far. In a non-legal context, Roese and Olson (1996) found a positive relationship between counterfactuals and hindsight bias, such that counterfactual mutations that undid the outcome also increased participants’ ratings of the outcome’s a priori likelihood. Further, they determined that this relationship is mediated by causal attributions about the counterfactually mutated antecedent event. Conversely, in the context of a civil lawsuit, Robbennolt and Sobus (1997) found that the relationship between counterfactual thinking and hindsight bias is negative. The current research sought to resolve the conflicting findings in the literature within a legal context.

In Experiment One, the manipulation of the normality of the defendant’s target behavior, designed to manipulate participants’ counterfactual thoughts about said behavior, did moderate the hindsight effect of outcome knowledge on mock jurors’ judgments of the foreseeability of that outcome as well as their negligence verdicts. Although I predicted that counterfactual thinking would increase, or exacerbate, the hindsight bias, as found by Roese and Olson (1996), my results provided some support for Robbenolt and Sobus’s (1997) finding that counterfactual thinking decreases the hindsight bias. Behavior normality did not moderate the hindsight effect of outcome knowledge in Experiment Two, nor did causal proximity in Experiment Three.

Additionally, my hypothesis that self-referencing may be an effective hindsight debiasing technique received little support across the three experiments. Although both the self-referencing instructions and self-report measure consistently decreased mock jurors’ likelihood of finding the defendant negligent, and self-referencing instructions decreased their foreseeability ratings in studies two and three, the self-referencing manipulation did not interact with outcome knowledge to moderate a hindsight bias effect on either foreseeability or negligence judgments. The consistent pattern of results across the three experiments, however, suggests that self-referencing may be an effective technique in reducing the likelihood of negligence verdicts.

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