How people interpret an uncertain If

In T. Kroupa & J. Vejnarova (eds.), Proceedings of the 8th Workshop on Uncertainty Processing. 80-91 (2009)
Conditionals are central to inference. Before people can draw inferences about a natural language conditional, they must interpret its meaning. We investigated interpretation of uncertain conditionals using a probabilistic truth table task, focussing on (i) conditional event, (ii) material conditional, and (iii) conjunction interpretations. The order of object (shape) and feature (color) in each conditional's antecedent and consequent was varied between participants. The conditional event was the dominant interpretation, followed by conjunction, and took longer to process than conjunction (mean di erence 500 ms). Material conditional responses were rare. The proportion of conditional event responses increased from around 40% at the beginning of the task to nearly 80% at the end, with 55% of participants showing a qualitative shift of interpretation. Shifts to the conditional event occurred later in the feature-object order than in the object-feature order. We discuss the results in terms of insight and suggest implications for theories of interpretation.
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