The Role of Counterfactual Thinking in Deception

Investigate the link between counterfactual thinking, i.e. the imagination of alternatives to reality, and deception whilst also examining the mechanisms that underlie this relationship.


  • Experimental Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology

A key part of generating deceptive messages involves the creation of plausible scenarios that could have been true but were not. Counterfactual thinking refers to this mental simulation of alternatives to reality and is ubiquitous in human thought. In this project we will examine whether individuals with a tendency to think counterfactually are more deceptive and whether encouraging people to think counterfactually can also enhance deceptiveness. Further aims include investigating the underlying cognitive mechanisms of counterfactual thinking, and relationships between counterfactual thinking and deception in clinical disorders. For example, Parkinson's disease (PD) is associated with impoverished counterfactual thinking as well as an impairment in the generation of deceptive messages, however, so far, no studies have investigated whether these two processes are associated in PD.

The project will involve experimental and clinical case work to investigate the relationship between counterfactual thinking and deception. It links with other CogNovo projects, in particular Project 2 (investigating a range of creative products including deceptive scenarios).


3 month secondment at Trinity College Dublin in the Reasoning and Imagination Lab under the supervision of Prof. Ruth Byrne

Research Fellow
Raluca Briazu

Clare Walsh, Catherine Deeprose, Giorgio Ganis, Simon Handley

Further Reading
  • Epstude, K., & Roese, N. (2008). The functional theory of counterfactual thinking. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 12, 168–192. doi:10.1177/1088868308316091
  • Shalvi, S., Dana, J., Handgraaf, M. J., & De Dreu, C. K. (2011). Justified ethicality: Observing desired counterfactuals modifies ethical perceptions and behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 115, 181-190. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2011.02.001
  • McNamara, P., Durso, R., Brown, A., & Lynch, A. (2003). Counterfactual cognitive deficit in persons with Parkinson's disease. Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 74, 1065-1070. doi:10.1136/jnnp.74.8.1065