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   2011, Vol. 43 Issue (01) : 1-10     DOI:
On the Role of “Zhi” In Chinese Counterfactual Thinking
ZHANG Jie-Hai;BONNEFON Jean-François;DENG Ci-Ping
(Institute of Sociology, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, Shanghai 200020, China) (Psychology Department, Université de Toulouse, France)
(School of Psychology and Cognitive Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China)
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Abstract  East-west differences in counterfactual thinking were thought to be non-existent or domain-specific. We identify a domain-general difference based on the notion of Zhi. In the context of a decision that had unfortunate consequences and triggered counterfactual thinking, this Chinese concept expresses how the quality of the justifications for the decision (ex ante) balances against the severity of the unfortunate consequences (ex post). The decision is Zhi if the quality of its justifications “outweighs” the severity of its outcome. We predict that Zhi mediates the effect of reasons and outcomes on counterfactual mutations made by Chinese participants; and that judgments of Zhi in our studies should mostly reflect expected benefits (justification), rather than whether the benefits would be realized or not. In contrast, the cost/benefit ratio (i.e., the closest Western counterpart to Zhi) should closely reflect realized benefits.
In Experiment 1, we randomly assigned 161 Chinese undergraduate students to four experimental groups, following a 2 (poor reason vs. good reason) × 2 (mild outcome vs. severe outcome) between-participant design. Participants read different versions of the Jones traffic accident vignette that originally appeared in Kahneman and Tversky (1982a). They were then asked to complete a counterfactual mutation question beginning with “If only”, and to give a rating of Zhi for the protagonist’s decision. Results wholly supported our expectations. The decision to take an unusual route was mutated more when it was judged as less Zhi. Reasons and outcomes impacted counterfactual thinking through the mediation of Zhi, when the effect of Zhi on counterfactual thoughts was taken into account, the direct effect of reasons and outcomes dropped significantly.
Experiment 2 was conducted with the help of 46 Chinese and 51 French students, and tested our cross-cultural hypothesis. Participants were presented with 4 versions of the Jones vignette, according to a 2 × 2 within-participant design, which manipulated the expected benefits (small or large) of taking an unusual route, and whether that benefit was realized or not. All participants rated the likelihood of a route mutation. Chinese participants were also asked to give a rating of Zhi, and French participants were also asked to give a rating of cost/benefit ratio in each situation. The results confirmed our hypothesis: the Zhi assessments of Chinese participants were not influenced by whether the expected benefit was realized. In contrast, the cost/benefit assessments of French participants were largely influenced by whether the expected benefit was realized. Accordingly, when participants judged the likelihood that the character in the scenario would think counterfactually of his choice of an unusual route, Chinese participants focused on the expected benefit for taking that route. French participants, however, gave a large role in their judgments to the realization of the expected benefit.
These results open a large avenue for future investigations. Whereas previous research examined cross-cultural differences on counterfactual thinking from the perspective of agency (acting vs. failing to act), the idea of Zhi suggest a novel dimension for cross-cultural comparisons, that of justification. Using the concept of Zhi can also help attain a richer understanding of mental simulation and regret, by showing how several variables (justifications and outcomes) can fuse into one complex concept, which itself determines subsequent cognitive and emotional reactions.
Keywords counterfactual thinking      Zhi      cost-benefit ratio     
Corresponding Authors: ZHANG Jie-Hai   
Issue Date: 30 January 2011
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DENG Ci-Ping
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ZHANG Jie-Hai,BONNEFON Jean-Franç,ois, et al. On the Role of “Zhi” In Chinese Counterfactual Thinking[J]. , 2011, 43(01): 1-10.
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