Working memory, metacognitive uncertainty, and belief bias in syllogistic reasoning

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Studies of syllogistic reasoning have shown that the size of the belief bias effect varies with manipulations of logical validity and problem form. This paper presents a mental models-based account, which explains these findings in terms of variations in the working-memory demands of different problem types. We propose that belief bias may reflect the use of a heuristic that is applied when a threshold of uncertainty in one's processing-attributable to working-memory overload-is exceeded during reasoning. Three experiments are reported, which tested predictions deriving from this account. In Experiment 1, conclusions of neutral believability were presented for evaluation, and a predicted dissociation was observed in confidence ratings for responses to valid and invalid arguments, with participants being more confident in the former. In Experiment 2, an attempt to manipulate working-memory loads indirectly by varying syllogistic figure failed to produce predicted effects upon the size of the belief bias effect. It is argued that the employment of a conclusion evaluation methodology minimized the effect of the figural manipulation in this experiment. In Experiment 3, participants' articulatory and spatial recall capacities were calibrated as a direct test of working-memory involvement in belief bias. Predicted differences in the pattern of belief bias observed between highand lowspatial recall groups supported the view that limited working memory plays a key role in belief bias.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Derby, Derby, U.K.

Publication date: November 1, 2000

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