John Petrocelli

Email:  petrocjv at
Professor of Psychology
(336) 758-4171
Greene Hall 459

Research Interests & Relevant Publications

I am a social psychologist and my research involves experimental social cognition and judgment and decision making.  My specific research interests include attitude strength and persuasion, bullshitting, counterfactual thinking and metacognition.

Attitude Strength and Persuasion.  How do various components of attitude strength (e.g., attitude certainty, attitudinal ambivalence, and attitude accessibility) affect attitude change and resistance to persuasive attempts?  How do sub-components of such attitude attributes influence the attitude-behavior link, attitude stability, persistence, and resistance to persuasive attempts?

Bullshit and Bullshitting.  Bullshitting is a pervasive social behavior involving communication with little to no concern for evidence and/or established semantic, logical, systemic, or empirical knowledge.  Bullshitting is different from lying in that the liar is actually concerned with the truth – the liar tries to divert us from the truth.  The bullshitter doesn’t really care what the truth is, he/she isn’t even trying – the bullshitter may be correct in his/her claim but wouldn’t know it.  The words “bullshit” and “bullshitting” are now technical terms as used in philosophy and psychology.   What are the antecedents, consequences, and utilities of this seemingly pervasive and inevitable behavior?  Under what social conditions and/or mental states is bullshitting attenuated or augmented?  Under what conditions are people receptive and/or sensitive to bullshit?  How can people better detect and dispose of bullshit?

Counterfactual Thinking.  Counterfactual thinking involves mentally simulating alternatives to reality and playing out the consequences of those alternatives (i.e., “could have,” “would have,” “should have,” or “if only” thinking).  What role does counterfactual thinking play in reactions to general and specific cases?  How does it affect memory for previous events?  What role does it play in learning and performance on tasks?  How does counterfactual thinking affect a physician’s diagnostic and treatment selection decisions?

Metacognition.  Metacognition involves thinking about one’s thoughts and thought processes.  How do metacognitive components of attitude strength affect attitude change?  How does a metacognitive aspect of counterfactual thinking (i.e., counterfactual potency) influence affect, judgments of social targets, and decisions?

Relevant Research:

Attitude Strength and Persuasion:

  • Petrocelli, J. V., & Whitmire, M. B. (2017). Emotion decoding and incidental processing fluency as antecedents of attitude certainty. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43, 924-939.
  • Petrocelli, J. V., Williams, S. A., & Clarkson, J. J. (2015). The bigger they come, the harder they fall: The paradoxical effect of regulatory depletion on attitude change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 58, 82-94.
  • Petrocelli, J. V., Clarkson, J. J., Tormala, Z. L., & Hendrix, K. S. (2010).Perceiving stability as a means to attitude certainty: The role of implicit theories of attitudes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 874-883.

Bullshit and Bullshitting:

  • Petrocelli, J. V. (2018). Antecedents of bullshitting. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76, 249-258.

Counterfactual Thinking:

  • Petrocelli, J. V., Rubin, A. L., & Stevens, R. L. (2016). The sin of prediction: When mentally simulated alternatives compete with reality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42, 1635-1652.
  • Petrocelli, J. V., Kammrath, L. K., Brinton, J. E., Uy, M. R., & Cowens, D. F. L. (2015). Holding on to what might have been may loosen (or tighten) the ties that bind us: A counterfactual potency analysis of previous dating alternatives. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 56, 50-59.
  • Petrocelli, J. V., Seta, C. E., & Seta, J. J. (2013).Dysfunctional counterfactual thinking: When simulating alternatives to reality impedes experiential learning. Thinking and Reasoning, 19, 205-230.
  • Petrocelli, J. V., Seta, C. E., Seta, J. J., & Prince, L. B. (2012). “If only I could stop generating counterfactual thoughts”: When counterfactual thinking interferes with academic performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 1117-1123.
  • Petrocelli, J. V., Seta, C. E., & Seta, J. J. (2012). Prefactual potency: The perceived likelihood of alternatives to anticipated realities. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 1467-1479.
  • Petrocelli, J. V., & Harris, A. K. (2011). Learning inhibition in the Monty Hall Problem: The role of dysfunctional counterfactual prescriptions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 1297-1311.

Other Research:

  • Dowd, K. W., Petrocelli, J. V., & Wood, M. T. (2014). Integrating information from multiple sources: A metacognitive account of self-generated and externally-provided anchors. Thinking and Reasoning, 20, 315-332.

Curriculum Vitae

Courses Taught

  • PSY 355 Research in Social Psychology
  • PSY 374 Research in Judgment and Decision Making
  • PSY 392 Contemporary Issues in Psychology: Mental Simulation
  • PSY 392 Contemporary Issues in Psychology: Implicit Social Cognition
  • PSY 311 Research Methods in Psychology I
  • PSY 260 Social Psychology

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