Methods of Thought: Individual Differences in Reasoning Strategies

Methods of Thought: Individual Differences in Reasoning Strategies

Methods of Thought: Individual Differences in Reasoning Strategies

Methods of Thought: Individual Differences in Reasoning Strategies


How do people make inferences? How do their reasoning processes differ and why? Methods of Thought attempts to answer these questions by looking in detail at the different reasoning strategies people apply, how these are acquired, how they are selected and how use of these strategies is influenced by individual and task properties. Focusing on empirical data and research into deductive reasoning tasks, this book summarizes current trends in the field and helps us to understand how individual differences in reasoning impact on other studies of higher cognitive abilities in humans. Contributors include researchers who have shown that people make deductions by using a variety of strategies, and others who have found that deductive reasoning problems provide a useful test-bed for investigating general theories of strategy development. Together, it is shown that these general theories derived from other domains have important implications for deductive reasoning, and also that findings by reasoning researchers have wider consequences for general theories of strategy development. This book will be of interest to anyone studying or working in the fields of reasoning, problem solving, and cognitive development, as well as cognitive science in general.


Maxwell J. Roberts

Department of Psychology, University of Essex, uk

Elizabeth J. Newton

Department of Human Communication Science, University College London, uk

How do people make inferences? For several decades, researchers have been attempting to answer this question, but have often conceptualised the possible answers as being mutually exclusive. For example, in the past we have been presented with the option of choosing between two different types of general-purpose reasoning theory. On the one hand, it has been asserted that all people reason by the use of mental models every time they attempt to make an inference. For this type of process, information is represented in the form of spatial arrays, akin to mental diagrams, from which further information can be inferred (e.g., Johnson-Laird & Byrne, 1991). On the other hand, it has been asserted that deduction rules are the exclusive tools of thought. Here, abstract rules are applied to verbal/propositional representations (e.g., Rips, 1994). We therefore supposedly need to be able to decide upon the nature of a hypothesised fundamental reasoning mechanism: a device, or module, whose operation underpins all reasoning (Roberts, 1993, 1997, 2000a).

If there really were a fundamental reasoning mechanism, what might we expect to see in our data? If it were always utilised, then the procedures used by an individual (whatever these might be) would always match the claimed fundamental procedures. Mutually exclusive theories would be easy to compare, and data would unequivocally match the predictions of one rather than another. Deviant responses would easily be explained as experimental error. Can we really dismiss such patterns of data in this way? If they imply the use of bizarre or inexplicable processes, then yes. Unfortunately, all too often these patterns are somewhat more coherent, and in fact may even directly

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