Advertisement

Counterfactual Communication in Politics: Features and Effects on Voters

  • Patrizia Catellani
  • Mauro Bertolotti
  • Venusia Covelli
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 7688)

Abstract

During debates and interviews, political leaders often have to defend themselves from adversaries and journalists questioning their performance. To fight against these threats, politicians resort to various defensive strategies, either direct or indirect, to draw attention away from their responsibilities or shed a more positive light upon their work. Counterfactual defences (i.e., comparing past actual events with other hypothetical events) may be included among indirect defensive strategies. We first analyzed counterfactuals evoked by politicians during pre-electoral televised broadcasts. Results showed that politicians defended themselves by using: a) other-focused upward counterfactuals; b) self-focused downward counterfactuals. We then analyzed the effects of defensive counterfactuals on recipients. Participants were presented with different versions of a fictitious political interview, varying for the use of factual versus counterfactual defences and for counterfactual target and direction. Results showed that counterfactual communication is an effective defensive strategy in political debates.

Keywords

counterfactual thinking political communication defence political debate 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. 1.
    McGraw, K.M.: Avoiding Blame: An Experimental Investigation of Political Excuses and Justifications. Brit. J. Pol. Sc. 20, 119–131 (1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    McGraw, K.M.: Political Accounts and Attribution Processes. In: Kuklinski, J.H. (ed.) Citizens and Politics, pp. 160–197. Cambridge University Press, New York (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Roese, N.J.: Counterfactual Thinking. Psych. Bull. 121, 133–148 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Kahneman, D., Miller, D.: Norm Theory: Comparing Reality to its Alternatives. Psych. Rev. 93, 136–153 (1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Kahneman, D., Tversky, A.: The Simulation Heuristic. In: Kahneman, D., Slovic, P., Tversky, A. (eds.) Judgement under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, pp. 201–208. Cambridge University Press, New York (1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Catellani, P., Alberici, A.I., Milesi, P.: Counterfactual Thinking and Stereotypes: The Nonconformity Effect. Europ. J. Soc. Psych. 34, 421–436 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Markman, K.D., Tetlock, P.E.: Accountability and Close-Call Counterfactuals: The Loser who Almost Won and the Winner who Almost Lost. Personal. and Soc. Psych. Bull. 26, 1213–1224 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Nario-Redmond, M., Branscombe, N.: It Could Have Been Better or it Might Have Been Worse: Implications for Blame Assignment in Rape Cases. Basic and Applied Soc. Psych. 18, 347–366 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Wells, G.L., Gavanski, I.: Mental Simulation of Causality. J. Personal. and Soc. Psych. 56, 161–169 (1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Branscombe, N.R., Owen, S., Gartska, T., Coleman, J.: Rape and Accident Counterfactuals: Who Might Have Done Otherwise and Would it Have Changed the Outcome? J. of Applied Soc. Psych. 26, 1042–1067 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Branscombe, N.R., Wohl, M.J.A., Owen, S., Allison, J.A., N’gbala, A.: Counterfactual Thinking, Blame, and Well-Being among Rape Victims. Basic and Applied Soc. Psych. 25, 265–273 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    van Dijk, E., Zeelenberg, M.: On the Psychology of ’If Only’: Regret and the Comparison between Factual and Counterfactual Outcomes. Organiz. Beh. and Human Decision Proc. 97, 152–160 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Sevdalis, N., Kokkinaki, F.: The Differential Effect of Realistic and Unrealistic Counterfactual Thinking on Regret. Acta Psych. 122, 111–128 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    McCrea, M.: Counterfactual Thinking following Negative Outcomes: Evidence for Group and Self-Protective Biases. Eur. J. of Soc. Psych. 37, 1256–1271 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    McCrea, S.M.: Self-Handicapping, Excuse Making, and Counterfactual Thinking: Consequences for Self-Esteem and Future Motivation. J. of Person. and Soc. Psych. 95, 274–292 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Catellani, P., Covelli, V.: The Strategic Use of Counterfactual Communication in Politics. Journal of Language and Social Psychology (early view, 2013), doi:10.1177/0261927X13495548Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Catellani, P., Milesi, P.: Counterfactuals and Roles: Mock Victims’ and Perpetrators’ Accounts of Judicial Cases. Europ. J. of Soc. Psych. 31, 247–264 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Davis, C.G., Lehman, D.R.: Counterfactual Thinking and Coping with Traumatic Life Events. In: Roese, N.J., Olson, J.M. (eds.) What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking, pp. 53–374. Erlbaum, Mahwah (1995)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Sanna, L.J., Turley, K.J.: Antecedents to Spontaneous Counterfactual Thinking: Effects of Expectancy Violation and Outcome Valence. Personal. and Soc. Psych. Bull. 22, 906–919 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Sanna, L.J., Turley-Ames, K.J.: Counterfactual Intensity. Eur. J. Soc. Psych. 30, 273–296 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Markman, K.D., Gavanski, I., Sherman, S.J., McMullen, M.N.: The Mental Simulation of Better and Worse Possible Worlds. J. Experim. Soc. Psych. 29, 87–109 (1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    McMullen, M.N., Markman, K.D., Gavanski, I.: Living in Neither the Best nor Worst of All Possible Worlds: Antecedents and Consequences of Upward and Downward Counter Factual Thinking. In: Roese, N.J., Olson, J.M. (eds.) What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking, pp. 133–167. Erlbaum, Hillsdale (1995)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Roese, N.J.: The Functional Basis of Counterfactual Thinking. J. Personal. and Soc. Psych. 66, 805–818 (1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Roese, N.J., Olson, J.M.: Counterfactual Thinking: The Intersection of Affect and Function. In: Zanna, M.P. (ed.) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 29, pp. 1–59. Academic Press, San Diego (1997)Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Roese, N.J., Olson, J.M.: Counterfactual Thinking: A Critical overview. In: Roese, N.J., Olson, J.M. (eds.) What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking, pp. 1–59. Erlbaum, Mahwah (1995)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Sanna, L.J.: Defensive Pessimism, Optimism, and Simulating Alternatives: Some Ups and Downs of Prefactual and Counterfactual Thinking. J. Personal. and Soc. Psych. 71, 1020–1036 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Girotto, V., Legrenzi, P., Rizzo, A.: Event Controllability in Counterfactual Thinking. Acta Psych. 78, 111–133 (1991)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Markman, K.D., Gavanski, I., Sherman, S.J., McMullen, M.N.: The Impact of Perceived Control on the Imagination of Better and Worse Possible Worlds. Personal. and Soc. Psych. Bull. 21, 588–595 (1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Miller, D.T., Turnbull, W., McFarland, C.: Counterfactual Thinking and Social Perception: Thinking about What Might Have Been. In: Zanna, M.P. (ed.) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 23, pp. 305–331. Academic Press, New York (1990)Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    N’gbala, A., Branscombe, N.R.: Mental Simulation and Causal Attribution: When Simulating an Event Does not Affect Fault Assignment. J. Exp. Soc. Psych. 31, 139–162 (1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Lau, R.: Models of Decision Making. In: Sears, D.O., Huddy, L., Jervis, R. (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, pp. 19–59. Oxford University Press, New York (2003)Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Catellani, P., Bertolotti, M.: The Effects of Counterfactual Defences (under review, 2013) Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    McGraw, K.M.: Managing Blame: An Experimental Test of the Effects of Political Accounts. The Am. Pol. Sc. Rev. 85, 1137–1157 (1991)Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Kim, P., Dirks, K., Cooper, C., Ferrin, D.: When More Blame is Better than Less: The Implications of Internal vs. External Attributions for the Repair of Trust after a Competence- vs. Integrity-Based Trust Violation. Org. Beh. and Human Dec. Proc. 99, 49–65 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Caprara, G.V., Barbaranelli, C., Fraley, R.C., Vecchione, M.: The Simplicity of Politicians’ Personalities across Cultures and Methods. Internat. J. Psych. 42, 393–405 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Bertolotti, M., Catellani, P., Douglas, K.M., Sutton, R.M.: The “Big Two” in Political Communication: The Effects of Attacking and Defending Politicians’ Leadership or Morality. Soc. Psych. 44, 117–128 (2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Cislak, A., Wojciszke, B.: Agency and Communion Are Inferred from Actions Serving Interests of Self or Others. Eur. J. Soc. Psych. 37, 1103–1110 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Bartels, L.M.: Beyond the Running Tally: Partisan Bias in Political Perceptions. Pol. Beh. 24, 117–150 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrizia Catellani
    • 1
  • Mauro Bertolotti
    • 1
  • Venusia Covelli
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCatholic University of MilanMilanItaly

Personalised recommendations