Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Reasoning, Integration, Inference Alteration, and Text Comprehension

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Reasoning, Integration, Inference Alteration, and Text Comprehension

Article excerpt


This paper reports how the study of formal logical reasoning provides insight into more everyday types of reasoning, such as that involved in language comprehension. Both of these types of cognition are thought to involve the use of mental models, and so it is reasonable to think that the cognitive operations needed for formal logical reasoning would be involved in everyday reasoning as well. We focused on three aspects of formal reasoning: (a) the integration of information into a common mental model, (b) the drawing of inferences, and (c) the coordination of alternative possibilities. We were able to show that the integration and inference components were related to narrative comprehension processes, but the coordination of alternative models was not. Thus, there is evidence for some overlap in the mental processes used in formal and everyday reasoning. This further justifies the study of formal logical reasoning as a window into certain types of everyday reasoning.

This paper focuses on the relation between formal and everyday reasoning tasks. Both of these are thought to involve mental models (Johnson-Laird, 1983; van Dijk & Kintsch, 1983; Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998). Formal logical reasoning often involves presenting people with information in an artificial format, and putting constraints on people's thinking that are not typically presented explicitly in the real world. In contrast, everyday reasoning allows for a wide variety of mental operations, some of which may extend beyond what is observed in more controlled settings. So, one of the issues that this work addresses is the value of studying formal logical reasoning as a window into how people engage in more everyday sorts of reasoning.

While the domain of formal reasoning is relatively constrained, there are many types of everyday reasoning. We focus on everyday reasoning in language comprehension. In particular, we look at the integration of information during comprehension and the alteration of a person's understanding when led to believe one situation is true, but then finds that a different situation is operating. In addition to this primary goal, we look at how formal reasoning compares with measures of working memory span and situation memory as a predictor of everyday reasoning.

In this study, we are interested in looking at naïve reasoners for two reasons. First, experienced reasoners in formal logic are more likely to use domain-specific strategies that are based on mathematics or heuristics. second, the psychological theories of human formal reasoning are oriented around the naïve reasoner.

The reasoning processes in formal logic require a person to not just store information, but to actively manipulate it. According to Mental Model Theory (e.g., Johnson-Laird, 1983), three processing components are (a) the integration of information, (b) the drawing of inferences, and (c) the consideration of alternative states. For formal logic problems, like categorical syllogisms, the integration process involves taking information from each premise, and integrating them into a single mental model. The success of this integration influences if a person is able to derive a correct conclusion. This is because after integrating the information, a person can draw an inference that should be true based on that representation. Even though this representation is a possible state of affairs, a person needs to assess whether it is the correct (valid) interpretation and to search for alternative possibilities (states-of-affairs) that also satisfy those premises, but that might lead to different conclusions than those derivable from the original model(s).

We look at the everyday reasoning that occurs during language comprehension. If the processes observed in formal reasoning involve general mental operations that are used in day-to-day living, then there should be some overlap for formal and everyday tasks. Moreover, this overlap should be confined to conditions where the two types of reasoning rely on similar mental processes. …

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