Send to

Choose Destination
Cognition. 1992 May;43(2):127-71.

Domain-specific reasoning: social contracts, cheating, and perspective change.

Author information

Institute of Psychology, University of Salzburg, Austria.


What counts as human rationality: reasoning processes that embody content-independent formal theories, such as propositional logic, or reasoning processes that are well designed for solving important adaptive problems? Most theories of human reasoning have been based on content-independent formal rationality, whereas adaptive reasoning, ecological or evolutionary, has been little explored. We elaborate and test an evolutionary approach. Cosmides' (1989) social contract theory, using the Wason selection task. In the first part, we disentangle the theoretical concept of a "social contract" from that of a "cheater-detection algorithm". We demonstrate that the fact that a rule is perceived as a social contract--or a conditional permission or obligation, as Cheng and Holyoak (1985) proposed--is not sufficient to elicit Cosmides' striking results, which we replicated. The crucial issue is not semantic (the meaning of the rule), but pragmatic: whether a person is cued into the perspective of a party who can be cheated. In the second part, we distinguish between social contracts with bilateral and unilateral cheating options. Perspective change in contracts with bilateral cheating options turns P & not-Q responses into not-P & Q responses. The results strongly support social contract theory, contradict availability theory, and cannot be accounted for by pragmatic reasoning schema theory, which lacks the pragmatic concepts of perspectives and cheating detection.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center