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From Critical to Hypocritical: Counterfactual Thinking Increases Partisan Disagreement About Media Hypocrisy


Journal of Experimental Social Psychology


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Helgason B A;Effron D A


Publication Year



Partisans on both sides of the political aisle complain that the mainstream media is hypocritical, but they disagree about whom that hypocrisy benefits. In the present research, we examine how counterfactual thinking contributes to this partisan disagreement about media hypocrisy. In three studies (two pre-registered, N = 1,342) of people’s reactions to media criticism of politicians, we find that people judged the media’s criticism of politicians they support as more hypocritical when they imagined whether the media would have criticized a politician from a different party for the same behavior if given the chance. Because this effect only emerged when people judged the media’s criticism of politicians they supported, and not politicians they opposed, counterfactual thinking increased partisan division in perceptions of media hypocrisy. We discuss implications for how counterfactual thinking facilitates motivated moral reasoning, contributes to bias in social judgment, and amplifies political polarization.


Counterfactual thinking, hypocrisy, moral judgment, imagination, political psychology

Available on ECCH


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