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Neuroscience. 2011 Jan 26;173:110-5. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2010.11.011. Epub 2010 Nov 11.

Gaze modulates non-propositional reasoning: further evidence for spatial representation of reasoning premises.

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Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Sapienza University, Piazzale Aldo Moro 5, 00185 Rome, Italy.


Human and animals are able to decide that A>C after having learnt that A>B and B>C. This basic property of logical thinking has been studied by transitive inference (TI) tasks. It has been hypothesized that subjects displace the premises of the inference on a mental line to solve the task. An evidence in favor of this interpretation is the observation of the symbolic distance effect, that is the improvement of the performance as the distance between items increases. This effect has been interpreted as support to the hypothesis that ability to perform TI tasks follows the same rules and is mediated by the same brain circuits involved in the performance of spatial tasks. We tested ten subjects performing a TI on an ordered list of Japanese characters while they were fixating either leftwards or rightwards, to evaluate whether the eye position modulated the performance in making TI as it does in spatial tasks. Our results show a significant linear decrease of the reaction time with the increase of the symbolic distance and a shift of this trend towards lower reaction times when subjects were fixating to the left. We interpret this eye position effect as a further evidence that spatial and reasoning tasks share the same underlying mechanisms and neural substrates. The eye position effect also points to a parietal cortex involvement in the neural circuit involved in transitive reasoning.

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