Past research has offered contrasting results regarding the effects of attacks on social judgments. In three experiments, we investigated the effects of counterfactual (“If only. . .”) and non-counterfactual attacks on the morality versus leadership of politicians versus entrepreneurs. First, participants rated morality as the most desirable, but least typical dimension of politicians, and leadership as the most desirable and most typical dimension of entrepreneurs (Study 1). Then, counterfactual attacks led to poorer evaluation of the attacked target and better evaluation of the attacking source as compared to non-counterfactual attacks, especially when counterfactuals were focused on the most desirable dimension for the professional category of the attacked target (Study 2). Similar results emerged when the typicality of the attacked dimension was manipulated (Study 3). Discussion focuses on the higher success of attacks on desirable personality dimensions and of counterfactual attacks as compared to other attacks.
- counterfactual communication, morality, leadership, criticism, social judgment