Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Effect of Emotion on Interpretation and Logic in a Conditional Reasoning Task

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Effect of Emotion on Interpretation and Logic in a Conditional Reasoning Task

Article excerpt

The effect of emotional content on logical reasoning is explored in three experiments. The participants completed a conditional reasoning task (If p, then q) with emotional and neutral contents. In Experiment 1, existing emotional and neutral words were used. The emotional value of initially neutral words was experimentally manipulated in Experiments 1B and 2, using classical conditioning. In all experiments, participants were less likely to provide normatively correct answers when reasoning about emotional stimuli, compared with neutral stimuli. This was true for both negative (Experiments 1B & 2) and positive contents (Experiment 2). The participants' interpretations of the conditional statements were also measured (perceived sufficiency, necessity, causality, and plausibility). The results showed the expected relationship between interpretation and reasoning. However, emotion did not affect interpretation. Emotional and neutral conditional statements were interpreted similarly. The results are discussed in light of current models of emotion and reasoning.

Debates about rationality are prevalent and central in both the emotion and the reasoning literatures (Barrett & Salovey, 2002; Chater & Oaksford, 2001; Damasio, 1998; Dawes, 2001; de Sousa, 1987; Ekman & Davidson, 1994; Evans, Over, & Manktelow, 1993; Oaksford & Chater, 1998; Parrott, 1995). Surprisingly, little empirical research has been dedicated to examining the effect of emotion on logicality, which could make an important contribution to the debate. Deductive reasoning in general, and conditional reasoning in particular, are simultaneously prevalent in everyday thinking and representative of the human potential for logical thinking. The three experiments I describe in this article were conducted to explore the effect of emotion on this type of reasoning. The main goal of this research was to compare participants' behavior when reasoning about neutral and emotional contents, and to explore the role of interpretation in this process.

Deductive reasoning is often held as a prime example of human intellectual ability, and the perfect opportunity to look for, or display, logicality. Deductive reasoning is a closed system in which conclusions are derived from premises. Propositions can be judged as true or not based on the prescriptions of normative logic. Tasks such as syllogistic reasoning (e.g., All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore, Socrates is mortal) and conditional reasoning (e.g., If it rains, I get wet. It is raining, therefore, I am getting wet) have been used to explore the ways in which people reason, and whether this conforms to the prescriptions of logic. Through empirical research, it has become clear that human performance is affected by a number of factors, related to the content or context of the rules, that are not, strictly speaking, relevant within a logical system (Cheng & Holyoak, 1985; Evans, 1989, 1998; Goel & Dolan, 2003; Manktelow, 1999; Markovits, 1986; Markovits & Nantel, 1989; Ohm & Thompson, 2004).

Whereas there has been much research on the effect of different semantic, informational, or cognitive content variables on reasoning, little research has explored the impact of affective variables. The deductive reasoning paradigm represents an appropriate test bed to empirically explore the widespread, but seldom tested, idea that emotions impair logical reasoning (de Sousa, 1987; French & Wettstein, 1998; Lyons, 1993). The limited amount of research that does exist on this topic has focused on the effect of psychopathologies, mood, and emotional content on different forms of reasoning.

Emotion and Reasoning: Empirical Findings

Some studies have investigated deductive reasoning in mood disorders, or psychopathologies with strong emotional components. For instance, it has been shown that depressed patients perform more poorly than healthy controls on syllogistic reasoning tasks (Channon & Baker, 1994; Radenhausen & Anker, 1988). …

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