Content and context effects in children's and adults' conditional reasoning
We have recently shown that children interpret conditional sentences with binary terms (e.g., male/female) in both the antecedent and the consequent as biconditionals (Barrouillet & Lecas, 1998). We hypothesized that the same effect can be obtained with conditionals that do not contain binary terms provided that they are embedded in a context that restricts to only two the possible values on both the antecedent and the consequent. In the present experiment, we asked 12-year-old children, 15-year-old children, and adults to draw conclusions from conditional syllogisms that involved three types of conditional sentence: (1) conditionals with binary terms (BB), (2) conditionals with non-binary terms (NN), and (3) conditionals with non-binary terms embedded in a restrictive context (NNR). As we predicted, BB conditionals elicited more biconditional response patterns than did NN conditionals in all age groups. On the other hand, manipulating the context had the same effect in children but not in adults. Content and context constraints on conditional reasoning along with developmental issues are discussed within the framework of the mental models theory.
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