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What can you say about an academic paper that starts with references to Milan Kundera and ends with a quote from Shakespeare.  Well you gotta love it and blog about it; but I might have easily passed over that paper for something more interesting ; also how much is it to luck that I found that paper (I discovered it via twitter via the tweets of @TheSocialBrain) and blogged about it; was my being on twitter, following @thescoialbrain and reading his tweet a lucky thing or a matter of my daily routine of sifiting through tweets for interesting stuff and thus a result of personal choice/effort?

There are multiple questions being asked above: 1) was my writing this blog post fated? (fate condition) Answer: No. 2) Could I have passed the opportunity for commenting on this paper and writing this blog post? (counter-factual  condition) Answer: yes and 3) was my writing this blog-post due to luck or happenstance? (luck condition)  Answer: No. Are these separate questions or are they related to each other?

This blog post is being written as I type; so this is a temporally very near event and as per construal theory I should be able to visualize and feel it quite concretely and at a low-level. (concrete and temporally near condition) . Contrast this with something significant that happened a long time  back and which I vaguely remember and is thus more abstract and construed at a higher level. (temporally distant and high construal condition) . Consider my starting this blog ‘The Mouse Trap’ about 5 years earlier. A new set of questions. 1)  Could my writing ‘The Mouse Trap’ – a blog about Psychology be fated: Answer: yes, {I cant think of any other option with blogging rising and my passion for psychology and writing} 2) Could I have not written the Mouse Trap blog: Answer : yes:  {If my interest in psychology found other outlets and if I had not chosen computers engineering I might not have been attracted to blogging so early on} 3) Could my writing blog The Mouse Trap and it getting in top 100 science blogs worldwide be due to luck . answer yes and no{ I put a lot of hard work in this, so itsnot all luck,; but I got into the inner circle of science bloggers when blogging was in infancy and thus was lucky in a way}.

The above was not idle navel gazing. By way of my anecdotal experience I wanted to highlight the research of Burrus and Roease and the results that they obtained when they attempted to pit fate and personal control/counter-factual thinking/explanations against each other.

In a nutshell what they found was that people used both sorts of explanations- fate and counter- factuals when it came to explaining significant events form one’s  life ; but fat explanations were more readily used for abstractly construed and temporally distant evens as compared to concrete and temporally near events. In contrast Counter-factual thinking did not depend on either temporal distance or construal type (abstract vs concrete) . Lastly they found that Luck beliefs also did not vary with time or abstractness of construal, and were thus a different construct from Fate.

What this basically means is that when you think of things in the distant past and those that are abstract and at a higher level, you tend to attribute those events more to fate, rather than to personal choice.  Also the construal of events is the mediating factor when it comes to effect of temporal distance on fate attributions.

That the construal is important can be seen form their first experiment wherein a same significant goal striving from past is brought to memory but the construal of the event is manipulated by either focusing on ‘why’ the goal striving was important or ‘how’ the goal was archived.

To make this more easily understandable , consider a significant event from my life –getting selected in IIT JEE. One can focus on ‘why’ questions when thinking about this goal striving.The abstract questions are as follows: (a) “Why did I want to achieve this goal?” (b) “What good came out of my achieving this goal?” and (c) “What does achieving this goal mean for my life?”. Asking these question purportedly puts me in an abstract frame of my mind and I am more likely to say, after this manipulation, that my cracking IIT JEE was fated (I was motivated, intelligent and wanted to be a computer engineer just like my peers- peer pressure forced me to become a computer engineer) .

Now consider a second set of questions that are targeted at making me think in more concrete terms the same event. The concrete questions are as follows: (a) “What kinds of tasks did I have to perform in completing this goal?” (b) “What techniques did I use in completing this goal?” and (c) “What ‘rules of thumb’ did I use in completing this goal?”. These questions immediately highlight to me the fact that my getting into JEE was due to hard work and the right coaching environment present in Kots, the hub of IIT jee coaching, and the place from where I hail. Now when I answer whether it might have been that I could not have passed IIT JEE I am much more in a counter factual mood and readily acknowledge that had I been born in a city other than Kota or not worked hard and got tuition at the right moment, I might not have got through the exam.

Again the above is anecdotal , but I hope it illustrates with clarity the point how construal and temporal distance influence our attributions to fate / personal choice.

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Burrus, J. (2006). Long Ago It Was Meant to Be: The Interplay Between Time, Construal, and Fate Beliefs Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32 (8), 1050-1058 DOI: 10.1177/0146167206288282

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