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The effects of counterfactual thinking on reactions to victimization

Description: Counterfactual thinking (CFT), which involves envisioning alternate outcomes to a past event, has been shown to affect people's perceptions of, and attributions regarding, the causes of that event. Understanding the elements of a crime that may trigger CFT will assist with further elucidating when and why victims report crimes, allowing law enforcement and policymakers to better calibrate the potential for underreporting and use reporting data effectively when shaping crime policies. In an experiment using vignettes, we manipulated characteristics associated with an imagined crime event in order to investigate the effect of those characteristics on crime reporting. A characteristic which past research has shown to trigger CFT (typicality of routine) and another that has been shown to trigger reporting (severity of monetary loss) were manipulated in the vignette. Reactions to victimization (e.g., anger) and reporting behavior were examined. College students read a stimuli paragraph and imagined they had their purse/wallet taken as they walked home. The study manipulated the amount of money stolen (i.e., $5, $40, $75) and typicality of routine (i.e., whether the typical route or atypical route home was taken). Results demonstrated that increased severity and taking an atypical route home both increased the likelihood of reporting a crime to police. In addition, typicality of routine and severity of monetary loss interact to affect victims' anger response to the crime. Finally, in an indication that typicality of routine likely increased CFT, as would be expected based on the literature, participants who read vignettes involving an unusual route being taken were more likely to believe that luck played a role and that they could have prevented the incident. No gender differences were found.

Suggested Citation:
Miller, M. K., Adya, M., Chamberlain, J., & Jehle, A. (2010). The effects of counterfactual thinking on reactions to victimization [Electronic Version]. Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice, 6(1), 17-30.


Date: Apr 12, 2010 | File Size: 137.41 Kb | Downloads: 1883

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