Counterfactual thinking is another cognitive process that may lead women to not acknowledge their experience as rape. As applied to rape, counterfactual thinking would involve mentally changing or reconstructing the events that culminated in rape in such a way that something other than rape occurred (Kahneman & Miller, 1986; Kahneman & Tversky, 1982). Unusual or negative events, such as nonconsensual sexual intercourse, elicit more counterfactual thinking than mundane or positive events (Davis, Lehman, Wortman, Silver, & Thompson, 1995; Kahneman &. Miller, 1986; Kahneman & Tversky, 1982; Miller &. McFarland, 1986; Wells, Taylor, & Turtle, 1987) because alternatives, including more typical or desired outcomes, such as nonconsensual intercourse not occurring, can be readily brought to mind.
Andreoli Mathie and Kahn (1995) suggested that some rape victims may engage in upward counterfactual thinking (Markman, Gavanski, Sherman, &. McMullen, 1993), and think about how they could have avoided
SES Items on Which Acknowledged Rape Victims had Signficantly Higher Levels of Endorsement Than Unacknowledged Victims
Note. NA = not asked; NS = not significant.
the rape or made it less traumatic (e. g., “If only I had not had so much to drink, this never would have happened”). Other victims may engage in downward counterfactual thinking, and think about how the situation could have been worse case (e. g., “At least he didn’t beat me up or it would have been worse”). Upward comparisons produce more intense negative affect (Gleicher, Kost, Baker, Strathman, Richman, & Sherman, 1990; Johnson, 1986; Kahneman & Miller, 1986; Kahneman & Tversky, 1982; Landman, 1987; Miller &. McFarland, 1986; Wells et al., 1987), more feelings of deprivation and resentment (Folger, 1987; Folger, Rosenfleld, & Robinson, 1983; Hemphill & Lehman, 1991; Markman et al., 1993; Roese, 1994; Taylor, Buunk, &. Aspinwall, 1990), more regret and self-blame (Boninger, Gleicher, & Strathman, 1994), and poorer adjustment (Bulman & Wortman, 1977; Burgess & Holmstrom, 1979; Taylor, Wood, & Licht – man, 1983) than downward comparisons. However, upward comparisons also can provide information about how to change the situation in the future and this may make the person better prepared for and more hopeful about the future (Boninger et al., 1994; Roese, 1994; Taylor et al., 1990; Taylor & Schneider, 1989; Taylor et al., 1983).
Rape acknowledgment may also be influenced by whose behavior is changed in the counterfactuals, the victim’s own behavior or that of her assailant (Branscombe, Owen, Garstka, & Coleman, 1996; Miller &
McFarland, 1986; Wells & Gavanski, 1989). When participants imagined what a rape victim could have done (but did not do) to avoid rape (Bran – scombe et al., 1996) or to impose justice on the assailant (and hence make it better for her) (Nario-Redmond & Branscombe, 1996), they assigned a greater percentage of blame to the victim, saw her as more responsible, and perceived the situation as less serious than when a change in her behavior did not alter the outcome. Similarly, the more counterfactual thoughts rape victims had in which they changed their own behavior to avoid the rape, the more self-blame they reported (Branscombe et al., 1995). It appears that the more people think they could have changed their behavior to alter the outcome, the more they think they should have done so. This may be what leads to the guilt and self-blame (Miller, Turnbull, & McFarland, 1990).
Based on these findings, Andreoli Mathie and Kahn (1995) hypothesized that the more women engaged in upward counterfactual thinking, especially upward counterfactual thinking that altered the assailant’s behavior, the more intense the negative feelings they would have about the incident, the less self-blame they would experience, and the more likely they would be to acknowledge their experience as rape. On the other hand, the more women engaged in downward counterfactual thinking, the less traumatized they would feel about the incident and the less likely they would be to acknowledge the situation as rape.
To examine what counterfactual thoughts victims had about the incident, they were asked in an open-ended question if they had replayed the event in their mind such that the outcome was better or worse, and if so, to list the thoughts they had. All counterfactual thoughts were coded by their direction (upward or downward) and whose behavior changed (victim, assailant, or other).
Our data provided little support for the importance of counterfactual thinking in rape acknowledgment. Acknowledged and unacknowledged victims did not differ on the total number of counterfactual thoughts or on the various types of counterfactual thoughts. The 56 women who listed their thoughts reported an average of 2.66 counterfactual thoughts, with a range of 0 to 8. However, almost all of these thoughts were upward and victim-focused counterfactuals (e. g., “if only I had done something different, things would have been better”). Forty-eight women reported one or more upward victim-focused counterfactuals (M = 2.13), eight women reported one, and one woman reported two upward assailant-focused counterfactuals. Only two women reported one downward victim-focused counterfactual, three women reported one, and two women reported four downward assailant-focused counterfactuals. There were no significant correlations between any of the types of counterfactual thoughts and the total affect, total self-blame, or total victimization scores.