Counterfactual Thought in Dreams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Counterfactual cognitive simulations are considerations of what might have been if what actually happened could be undone. I hypothesize that counter/actual thought is characteristic of dreams and that cognitive operations in dreams function to identify a norm violation recorded in autobiographical memory and then to re-instate normality in memory by generating counterfactuals to the violation. Dream counterfactuals therefore obey the same constraints on mutability as waking counterfactuals. Both dreaming and counterfactuals typically focus on the self, involve negative affect, and narrative form, promote problem solving and learning by running mental simulations and variations on a given problem theme, employ memory fragments in these various mental scenarios, plausibly rely on neural networks in right limbic and orbitofrontal cortices, and are largely automatic and pre-conscious operations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-246
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Autobiographical memory
  • Cognition
  • Dream content
  • Norm violations

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