The influence of clause order, congruency, and probability on the processing of conditionals

Thinking and Reasoning 17 (4):402 - 423 (2011)
Abstract
Conditional information can be equally asserted in the forms if p, then q (e.g., ?if I am ill, I will miss work tomorrow?) and q, if p (e.g., ?I will miss work tomorrow, if I am ill?). While this type of clause order manipulation has previously been found to have no influence on the ultimate conclusions participants draw from conditional rules, we used self-paced reading to examine how it affects the real time incremental processing of everyday conditional statements. Experiment 1 revealed that clause order interacts with presuppositional congruency as readers hypothetically represent counterfactual statements. When if p, then q counterfactuals contained a presupposition that was incongruent with prior context, these statements took longer to read than when the presupposition was congruent, but for q, if p conditionals there was no such congruency effect. Experiment 2 revealed that reading times were influenced by the subjective probability of an indicative conditional regardless of clause order, with a penalty observed for low-probability statements relative to high-probability statements in both conditional clause orders. These data reveal a dissociation whereby clause order mediates the effect of suppositional congruency on reading times, but does not mediate the effect of subjective probability
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