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Latest discovery: Orenes, Beltrán, & Santamaría, 2014

Isabel Orenes, David Beltran and Carlos Santamaria have discovered that when people are shown an array of figures such as a red, green, yellow and blue figure, and they know the figure can be red or green, and then they are told ‘the figure is not red’ they tend to look at the green figure. But when they are shown the same array of figures and they know the figure can be red or green or yellow or blue, and then they are told ‘the figure is not red’, they tend to look at the red figure. They interpret the result as showing that people can represent negation using symbols in mental models. Their results are published in the Journal of Memory and Language (vol 74, pp. 36-45) under the title ‘How negation is understood: Evidence from the visual world paradigm.’ They summarise their findings in their abstract:

“This paper explores how negation (e.g., the figure is not red) is understood using the visual world paradigm. Our hypothesis is that people will switch to the alternative affirmative (e.g., a green figure) whenever possible, but will be able to maintain the negated argument (e.g., a non-red figure) when needed. To test this, we presented either a specific verbal context (binary: the figure could be red or green) or an unspecified verbal context (multary: the figure could be red or green or yellow or blue). Then, affirmative and negative sentences, e.g., the figure is (not) red) were heard while four figures were shown on the screen and eye movements were monitored. We found that people shifted their visual attention toward the alternative in the binary context, but focused on the negated argument in the multary context. Our findings corroborated our hypothesis and shed light on two issues that are currently under debate about how negation is represented and processed. Regarding representation, our results support the ideas that (1) the negative operator plays a role in the mental representation, and consequently a symbolic representation of negation is possible, and (2) it is not necessary to use a two-step process to represent and understand negation.”

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Latest Discovery: Moreno-Ríos, Rojas-Barahona & García-Madruga

Sergio Moreno-Ríos, Cristian Rojas-Barahona and Juan A. García-Madruga have examined how children and adults reason about diagrams of simple shapes, such as a red triangle, a red circle and a blue circle, that contain indeterminate information. Their findings are published in their paper ‘Perceptual inferences about indeterminate arrangements of figures’ in the latest issue of Acta Psychologica (2014, 148, 216-225).

They describe their results in their abstract as follows:

“Previous studies in spatial propositional reasoning showed that adults use a particular strategy for making representations and inferences from indeterminate descriptions (those consistent with different alternatives). They do not initially represent all the alternatives, but construct a unified mental representation that includes a kind of mental footnote. Only when the task requires access to alternatives is the unified representation reinspected. The degree of generalisation of this proposal to other perceptual situations was evaluated in three experiments with children, adolescents and adults, using a perceptual inference task with diagrammatic premises that gave information about the location of one of three possible objects. Results obtained with this very quick perceptual task support the kind of representation proposed from propositional spatial reasoning studies. However, children and adults differed in accuracy, with the results gradually changing with age: indeterminacy leads adults to require extra time for understanding and inferring alternatives, whereas children commit errors. These results could help inform us of how people can make inferences from diagrammatic information and make wrong interpretations.”

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2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Latest Discovery: Espino & Byrne 2013

Orlando Espino and Ruth Byrne have discovered that people make inferences between conditionals and disjunctions by relying on a heuristic that identifies compatible possibilities. Their paper ‘The compatibility heuristic in non-categorical
hypothetical reasoning: Inferences between conditionals and disjunctions’ is published in the latest issue of Cognitive Psychology (2013, 67, 3, 98-129). They describe their findings in their abstract there as follows:

‘A new theory explains how people make hypothetical inferences from a premise consistent with several alternatives to a conclusion consistent with several alternatives. The key proposal is that people rely on a heuristic that identifies compatible possibilities. It is tested in 7 experiments that examine inferences between conditionals and disjunctions. Participants accepted inferences between conditionals and inclusive disjunctions when a compatible possibility was immediately available, in their binary judgments that a conclusion followed or not (Experiment 1a) and ternary judgments
that included it was not possible to know (Experiment 1b). The compatibility effect was amplified when compatible possibilities were more readily available, e.g., for ‘A only if B’ conditionals (Experiment 2). It was eliminated when compatible possibilities were not available, e.g., for ‘if and only if A B’ bi-conditionals and exclusive disjunctions (Experiment 3). The compatibility heuristic occurs even for inferences based on implicit negation e.g., ‘A or B, therefore if C D’ (Experiment 4), and between universals ‘All A’s are B’s’ and disjunctions (Experiment 5a) and universals and conditionals (Experiment 5b). The implications of the results for alternative theories of the cognitive processes underlying hypothetical deductions are discussed.’

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Latest news: Knauff 2013

Markus Knauff has published a book ‘Space to Reason: A Spatial Theory of Human Thought’ with MIT press. It is described as follows:

“Many scholars believe that visual mental imagery plays a key role in reasoning. In Space to Reason, Markus Knauff argues against this view, proposing that visual images are not relevant for reasoning and can even impede the process. He also argues against the claim that human thinking is solely based on abstract symbols and is completely embedded in language. Knauff proposes a third way to think about human reasoning that relies on supramodal spatial layout models, which are more abstract than pictorial images and more concrete than linguistic representations. He argues that these spatial layout models are at the heart of human thought, even thought about nonspatial relations in the world. For Knauff the visual images that we so often associate with reasoning are only in the foreground of conscious experience. Behind the images, the actual logical work is carried out by reasoning-specific operations on these spatial layout models. Knauff also offers a solution to the problem of indeterminacy in human reasoning, introducing the notion of a preferred layout model, which is one layout model among others that has the best chance of being mentally constructed and thus guides the further process of thought. Knauff’s “space to reason” theory covers the functional, the algorithmic, and the implementational level of analysis and is corroborated by psychological experiments, functional brain imaging, and computational modeling.”

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Latest news: Ragni & Knauff 2013

Marco Ragni and Markus Knauff have developed a new computational model of reasoning about spatial relations based on the construction of ‘preferred’ mental models. Their paper ‘A theory and a computational model of spatial reasoning with preferred mental models’ is in Psychological Review (2013,  advance online publication: doi: 10.1037/a0032460). They summarise their findings in their abstract:

‘Inferences about spatial arrangements and relations like “The Porsche is parked to the left of the Dodge and the Ferrari is parked to the right of the Dodge, thus, the Porsche is parked to the left of the Ferrari,” are ubiquitous. However, spatial descriptions are often interpretable in many different ways and compatible with several alternative mental models. This article suggests that individuals tackle such indeterminate multiple model problems by constructing a single, simple, and typical mental model but neglect other possible models. The model that first comes to reasoners’ minds is the preferred mental model. It helps save cognitive resources but also leads to reasoning errors and illusory inferences. The article presents a preferred model theory and an instantiation of this theory in the form of a computational model, preferred inferences in reasoning with spatial mental models (PRISM). PRISM can be used to simulate and explain how preferred models are constructed, inspected, and varied in a spatial array that functions as if it were a spatial working memory. A spatial focus inserts tokens into the array, inspects the array to find new spatial relations, and relocates tokens in the array to generate alternative models of the problem description, if necessary. The article also introduces a general measure of difficulty based on the number of necessary focus operations (rather than the number of models). A comparison with results from psychological experiments shows that the theory can explain preferences, errors, and the difficulty of spatial reasoning problems.’

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