chapter  4
14 Pages

The mental representation of what might have been

ByCLARE R . WALSH AND RUTH M . J . BYRNE

In your daily life, you think about many things. You may make a choice to visit a favorite place, you may have a chance meeting with an old friend, or you may discover a new book. What do you keep in mind when you think about events? In this chapter we will consider the view that people think by constructing a “mental model.” These mental representations allow people to keep in mind various sorts of possibilities (Johnson-Laird and Byrne 2002). Suppose your choice to visit a favorite place turns out badly: your wallet is stolen while you are there. You may imagine alternatives to the events that led to the bad outcome, such as “If only I had stayed at home . . .” What do you keep in mind when you imagine alternatives? We will consider the view that people rely on the same sorts of mental representations and cognitive processes to imagine alternative events as they do to think about the events that actually happened (Byrne 2005).