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Mem Cognit. 1991 May;19(3):274-82.

Conditional reasoning and causation.

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  • 1Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.


An experiment was conducted to investigate the relative contributions of syntactic form and content to conditional reasoning. The content domain chosen was that of causation. Conditional statements that described causal relationships (if mean value of cause, then mean value of effect) were embedded in simple arguments whose entailments are governed by the rules of truth-functional logic (i.e., modus ponens, modus tollens, denying the antecedent, and affirming the consequent). The causal statements differed in terms of the number of alternative causes and disabling conditions that characterized the causal relationship. (A disabling condition is an event that prevents an effect from occurring even though a relevant cause is present). Subjects were required to judge whether or not each argument's conclusion could be accepted. Judgements were found to vary systematically with the number of alternative causes and disabling conditions. Conclusions of arguments based on conditionals with few alternative causes or disabling conditions were found to be more acceptable than conclusions based on those with many.

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