Scenarios are stories that depict some future event. We reviewed the research in which scenarios were created either by researchers or by research participants with or without structured guidelines. Regardless of how scenarios are created, they have been shown to alter people's expectations about the depicted events. Evidence suggests that the ease with which a scenario is imagined or constructed, or the plausibility of a scenario, upwardly biases beliefs that the depicted event could occur. In some instances, attitudes or behaviors consistent with the altered expectancies have been observed. For example, persons who imagined subscribing to cable television were more likely to have favorable attitudes toward cable television and to subscribe than those receiving standard sales information, and mental health clinic clients who imagined remaining in therapy for at least four sessions were less likely to drop out prematurely than clients who simply received information on remaining in therapy. Practitioners who wish to alter clients’ expectancies regarding specific events can provide scenarios that (a) depict the occurrence of an event using concrete examples (not abstract information), (b) contain representative events, (c) contain easily recalled supporting evidence, (d) contain events linked by causal connections, (e) ask clients to project themselves into the situation, (f) require clients to describe how they acted and felt in the situation, (g) use plausible elements in the story, (h) include reasons why the events occur, (i) require clients to explain the outcomes, (j) take into account clients’ experiences with the topic, and (k) avoid causing reactance or boomerang effects in clients who might resent blatant influence attempts. We make additional recommendations concerning the situation in which clients are exposed to scenarios and the use of multiple scenarios.
Keywords: availability heuristic, expectancies, scenarios, simulation heuristic