Working memory and counterexample retrieval for causal conditionals

Thinking and Reasoning 11 (2):123 – 150 (2005)
Abstract
The present study is part of recent attempts to specify the characteristics of the counterexample retrieval process during causal conditional reasoning. The study tried to pinpoint whether the retrieval of stored counterexamples (alternative causes and disabling conditions) for a causal conditional is completely automatic in nature or whether the search process also demands executive working memory (WM) resources. In Experiment 1, participants were presented with a counterexample generation task and a measure of WM capacity. We found a positive relation between search efficiency, as measured by the number of generated counterexamples in limited time, and WM capacity. Experiment 2 examined the effects of a secondary WM load on the retrieval performance. As predicted, burdening WM with an attention-demanding secondary task decreased the retrieval efficiency. Both low and high spans were affected by the WM load but load effects were less pronounced for the most strongly associated counterexamples. Findings established that in addition to an automatic search component, the counterexample retrieval draws on WM resources.
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