chapter  11
When the social context frames the case: counterfactuals in the courtroom
Pages 16

The above verdict is just one of several possible examples of the use of counterfactual thinking in judicial decision making. It shows how interpretation and evaluation of judicial cases are heavily influenced not only by considerations of what actually happened, but also by considerations of what might have happened “if only. . . .” Much research has shown that focusing counterfactuals on one of the actors of a judicial case is likely to increase the amount of responsibility attributed to that actor. Investigating what factors may constrain counterfactual focus in the judicial context is therefore of relevance to a better comprehension of how legal cases are interpreted and evaluated. This issue is dealt with in the present chapter. Unlike previous research, which was mainly focused on intrapersonal, context-independent constraints (for a review, see Seelau et al. 1995), we focus our attention on psychosocial, context-dependent constraints that have been less investigated so far (see also Mandel 2003a).