Latest discovery: Vergauwe, E., Gauffroy, C., Morsanyi, K., Dagry I., & Barrouillet, P. (2013).

Evie Vergauwe, Caroline Gauffroy, Kinga Morsanyi,  Isabelle Dagry and Pierre Barrouillet have discovered that when people think about a conditional such as, ‘if the circle is red then the star is yellow’, they take a long time to judge that an instance such as ‘the circle is not red and the star is yellow’ is irrelevant. Their results are reported in their article ‘Chronometric evidence for the dual-process mental model theory of conditionals’ published in the latest issue of the  Journal of Cognitive Psychology (25, 2, 174-182). They summarise the finding in their abstract as follows:

“The fact that adults exhibit a defective truth table when evaluating “If p then q” conditional statement and judge ¬p cases as irrelevant for the truth value of the conditional has been considered as one of the main evidence against the mental model theory and in favour of Evans’ (2007) suppositional account of conditional. If judgements of irrelevance result from some heuristic process, as the suppositional theory assumes, they should be rapid. By contrast, if they result from a demanding and time consuming fleshing out process, as our mental model theory assumes, “irrelevant” responses should be the slowest. In the present study, we analyse the time course of responses in a truth table task as a function of their nature and the interpretation of the conditional adopted by the participants. As our mental model theory predicts, “irrelevant” responses are the slowest, and response times are a direct function of the number of models each type of response involves.”

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Latest news

Monica Bucciarelli, Amelia Gangemi and Walter Schaeken are the guest editors of a special issue of the Journal of Cognitive Psychology (2013, volume 25, issue 2) on ‘Mental models in cognitive change’.

In the introductory article to the special issue, Phil Johnson-Laird writes:

‘The theory of mental models owes its origins to Pierce’s logic in the nineteenth century and to Craik’s psychological research during the Second World War. This Special Issue marks the 30th anniversary of a book that tried to pull these and other strands together into a unified approach to comprehension and reasoning: Mental Models. The principal assumption of the theory is that individuals reason by trying to envisage the possibilities compatible with what they know or believe.”

The special issue contains the following 11 papers:

Johnson-Laird, P.N. (2013). Mental models and cognitive change. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 2, 131-138.

Khemlani, S. Johnson-Laird, P.N. (2013). Cognitive changes from explanations. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 2, 139-146.

Knauff, M., Bucher, L., Krumnack, A., Nejasmic, J. (2013). Spatial belief revision. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 2, 147-156.

Gangemi, A., Mancini, F. & Johnson-Laird, P.N. (2013). Models and cognitive change in psychopathology. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 2, 157-164.

Lee, N.Y.L. & Johnson-Laird, P.N. (2013). Strategic changes in problem solving. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 2, 165-173.

Vergauwe, E., Gauffroy, C., Morsanyi, K., Dagry I., & Barrouillet, P. (2013). Chronometric evidence for the dual-process mental model theory of conditionals. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 2, 174-182.

Ball, L.J. (2013). Microgenetic evidence for the beneficial effects of feedback and practice on belief bias. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 2, 183-191.

Santamaria, C., Tse, P., Moreno-Rios, S., & Garcia-Madruga, J.A. (2013). Deductive reasoning and metalogical knowledge in preadolescence: a mental model appraisal. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 2, 192-200.

Cutica, I. & Bucciarelli, M. (2013). Cognitive change in learning from text: gesturing enhances the construction of the text mental model. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 2, 201-209.

Murray, M.A. & Byrne, R.M.J. (2013). Cognitive change in insight problem solving: initial model errors and counterexamples. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 2, 210-219.

Hegarty, M., Stieff, M., & Dixon, B.L. (2013). Cognitive change in mental models with experience in the domain of organic chemistry. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 2, 220-228.

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Latest results: Brambilla, Sacchi, Rusconi, Cherubini & Yzerbyt 2012

Marco Brambilla, Simona Sacchi, Patrice Rusconi, Paolo Cherubini & Vincent Yzerbyt have found that our impressions of others are based more strongly on information about their morality than on information about their sociability or competence. Their results are published in their paper ‘You want to give a good impression? Be honest! Moral traits dominate group impression formation’  in the British Journal of Social Psychology (51,  149-166). Their abstract there summarises the discovery:

“Research has shown that warmth and competence are core dimensions on which perceivers judge others and that warmth has a primary role at various phases of impression formation. Three studies explored whether the two components of warmth (i.e., sociability and morality) have distinct roles in predicting the global impression of social groups. In Study 1 (N= 105) and Study 2 (N= 112), participants read an immigration scenario depicting an unfamiliar social group in terms of high (vs. low) morality, sociability, and competence. In both studies, participants were asked to report their global impression of the group. Results showed that global evaluations were better predicted by morality than by sociability or competence-trait ascriptions. Study 3 (N= 86) further showed that the effect of moral traits on group global evaluations was mediated by the perception of threat. The importance of these findings for the impression-formation process is discussed.”

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Latest results: Wolf, Rieger & Knauff 2012

Ann Wolf, Susann Rieger and Markus Knauff have found that people’s belief in a conditional such as ‘if Chris goes to work then he will take the car’ dropped when it was uttered by an individual with a ‘low-trustworthy’ occupation, e.g. a used-car salesman or a real-estate agent compared to one with a ‘high-trustworthy’ occupation, e.g. a pilot or a firefighter, when they are given tasks which required them to revise their beliefs, e.g., ‘if Chris goes to work then he will take the car. Chris does not take the car. Chris goes to work’. Their results are published in their paper The effects of source trustworthiness and inference type on human belief revision  in  Thinking & Reasoning (2012, 18, 417-440). They summarise their results in their abstract there:

“We investigated whether people revise their beliefs as a function of inference trustworthiness. By doing so we aimed to find out if belief revision is better explained by mental model theory (Johnson-Laird & Byrne, 2002) or by a conditional probability view (Evans, Handley, & Over, 2003; Oaksford & Chater, 2001). We used modified modus ponens (MP) and modus tollens (MT) problems in which the first two premises were uttered by persons with varying degrees of trustworthiness. A third statement was presented as a fact and established inconsistency in the set of propositions. The participants’ task was to indicate which of the first two premises they believed more after receiving the fact. We found that the belief in the conditional premise dropped significantly when this premise was stated by a low- rather than a high- trustworthy source. Moreover we found that the conditional premise was believed more in MT than in MP problems. Both findings are best explained by the conditional probability hypothesis (e.g., Evans et al., 2003)”

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Latest discovery: Gómez-Veiga, I., García-Madruga, J. A., & Moreno-Ríos, S. 2012

Isabel Gómez-Veiga, Juan García-Madruga, and Sergio Moreno-Ríos have shown that people think about more possibilities when they understand conditionals based on ‘unless’ compared to conditionals based on ‘if’. Their results are published in the  Journal of Cognitive Psychology (24, 8, 1002-1009) and summarised in their abstract as follows:

‘Using a priming paradigm, the possibilities that people keep in mind in order to understand “unless A, B” were compared to those from “if A, not-B” conditionals. The length of time it took people to read conjunctions such as “A and B”, “A and not-B”, “not-A and B”, and “not-A and not-B” after they had been primed by the different conditionals was measured. The results show that, whereas people rely on one possibility to understand “if”, they rely on two possibilities to understand “unless” conditionals. The results are discussed within the mental models framework.’

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Latest results: Khemlani, S. & Johnson-Laird, P.N. (2012)

Sunny Khemlani, & Phil Johnson-Laird discuss the evidence to support existing theories of syllogisms in their paper ‘Theories of the syllogism: a meta-analysis’ published in 2012 in Psychological Bulletin (138,  3, 427–457). Their abstract summarizes their results:

“Syllogisms are arguments about the properties of entities. They consist of 2 premises and a conclusion, which can each be in 1 of 4 “moods”: All A are B, Some A are B, No A are B, and Some A are not B. Their logical analysis began with Aristotle, and their psychological investigation began over 100 years ago. This article outlines the logic of inferences about syllogisms, which includes the evaluation of the consistency of sets of assertions. It also describes the main phenomena of reasoning about properties.
There are 12 extant theories of such inferences, and the article outlines each of them and describes their strengths and weaknesses. The theories are of 3 main sorts: heuristic theories that capture principles that could underlie intuitive responses, theories of deliberative reasoning based on formal rules of inference akin to those of logic, and theories of deliberative reasoning based on set-theoretic diagrams or models. The article presents a meta-analysis of these extant theories of syllogisms using data from 6 studies. None of the 12 theories provides an adequate account, and so the article concludes with a guide—based on its qualitative and quantitative analyses—of how best to make progress toward a satisfactory theory.”


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Latest discovery: Egan & Byrne 2012

Suzanne Egan and Ruth Byrne have found that people interpret counterfactual threats e.g., ‘if you had hit your brother I would have grounded you’  as threatening for the future, whereas they do not interpret counterfactual promises, e.g., ‘if you had mowed the lawn I would have given you 10 euro’ as promising for the future.

Their 2012 article Inferences from counterfactual threats and promises published in Experimental Psychology (59, 4, 227 – 235)  begins as follows:

‘The Irish Times on March 11, 2011 reported under the headline ‘‘Man acquitted in case where alleged threat to kill was made in past tense,’’ that a man was acquitted at the special criminal court because his defence counsel argued successfully that he had not threatened to kill or cause serious harm to the defendant’s family because the ‘‘assertion that the accused man told him he ‘could have had’ his father shot and his sister ‘done’ was a statement in the past tense and could not amount to words in law of a threat to future conduct.’’ ‘

and it concludes:

‘Our results suggest that a counterfactual threat, ‘‘I could have had your father killed. . .’’  is interpreted by most ordinary people as threatening for the future, contrary to recent legal argument. In contrast, counterfactual promises appear to exert only a weak illocutionary force; they may serve as a general guide to future behavior (e.g., be good and you will be rewarded) rather than as a specific instruction (e.g., if you mow the grass tomorrow then I will pay you 10 euro).’


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