Construing counterfactual worlds: The role of abstraction

Michael Gilead, Nira Liberman*, Anat Maril

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The present article conceptualizes mental time travel as a special case of transcending psychological distance, which rests on the uniquely human ability to consider counterfactual and hypothetical worlds. We discuss the possible challenges that counterfactuality and futurity present before our cognitive system, which include severing the real from imagined worlds and dealing with uncertainty. We suggest, similar to extant approaches to theory of mind, that the use of abstract-symbolic mental representations helps overcome these difficulties. We present empirical evidence to support the claim that counterfactual and hypothetical objects are encoded in a more abstract manner than ascertained objects. Finally, we discuss the possible advantages of linguistic/disembodied representation over the embodied-experiential form.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)391-397
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2012


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