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Probability and Instruction Effects in Syllogistic Conditional Reasoning

By Olimpia Matarazzo and Ivana Baldassarre

Abstract

Abstract—The main aim of this study was to examine whether people understand indicative conditionals on the basis of syntactic factors or on the basis of subjective conditional probability. The second aim was to investigate whether the conditional probability of q given p depends on the antecedent and consequent sizes or derives from inductive processes leading to establish a link of plausible cooccurrence between events semantically or experientially associated. These competing hypotheses have been tested through a 3 x 2 x 2 x 2 mixed design involving the manipulation of four variables: type of instructions (“Consider the following statement to be true”, “Read the following statement ” and condition with no conditional statement); antecedent size (high/low); consequent size (high/low); statement probability (high/low). The first variable was between-subjects, the others were within-subjects. The inferences investigated were Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens. Ninety undergraduates of the Second University of Naples, without any prior knowledge of logic or conditional reasoning, participated in this study. Results suggest that people understand conditionals in a syntactic way rather than in a probabilistic way, even though the perception of the conditional probability of q given p is at least partially involved in the conditionals ’ comprehension. They also showed that, in presence of a conditional syllogism, inferences are not affected by the antecedent or consequent sizes. From a theoretical point of view these findings suggest that it would be inappropriate to abandon the idea that conditionals are naturally understood in a syntactic way for the idea that they are understood in a probabilistic way. Keywords—Conditionals, conditional probability, conditional syllogism, inferential task. C I

Year: 2011
OAI identifier: oai:CiteSeerX.psu:10.1.1.193.1726
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