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Activation of end-terms in syllogistic reasoning

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We report five experiments showing that the activation of the end-terms of a syllogism is determined by their position in the composite model of the premises. We show that it is not determined by the position of the terms in the rule being applied (Ford, 1994), by the syntactic role of the terms in the premises (Polk & Newell, 1995; Wetherick & Gilhooly, 1990), by the type of conclusion (Chater & Oaksford, 1999), or by the terms from the source premise (Stenning & Yule, 1997). In our first experiment we found that after reading a categorical premise, the most active term is the last term in the premise. In Experiments 2, 3, and 4 we demonstrated that this pattern of activity is due to the position of the concepts in the model of the premises, regardless of the delay after reading the premises (150 or 2000 msec) or the quantity of the quantifiers (universal or existential). The fifth experiment showed that the pattern switches around after participants evaluate a conclusion. We propose that the last element in the model maintains a higher level of activity during the comprehension process because it is generally used to attach the incoming information. After this process, the first term becomes more active because it is the concept to which the whole representation is referred. These results are predicted by the mental model theory (Johnson-Laird & Byrne, 1991), but not by the verbal reasoning theory (Polk & Newell, 1995), the graphical methods theory (Yule & Stenning, 1992), the attachment-heuristic theory (Chater & Oaksford, 1999), or the mental rules theory (Ford, 1994).

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 2000


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