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Mem Cognit. 2000 Mar;28(2):282-94.

Illusions in modal reasoning.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Princeton University, NJ 08544, USA. goldvarg@princeton.edu


According to the mental model theory, models represent what is true, but not what is false. One unexpected consequence is that certain inferences should have compelling, but invalid, conclusions. Three experiments corroborated the occurrence of such illusions in reasoning about possibilities. When problems had the heading "Only one of the premises is true," the participants considered the truth of each premise in turn, but neglected the fact that when one premise is true, the others are false. When two-premise problems had the heading "One of the premises is true and one is false," the participants still neglected the falsity of one of the premises. As predicted, however, the illusions were reduced when reasoners were told to check their conclusions against the constraint that only one of the premises was true. We discuss alternative explanations for illusory inferences and their implications for current theories of reasoning.

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