Persisting effects of instruction on young children's syllogistic reasoning with incongruent and abstract premises

Thinking and Reasoning 5 (2):145 – 173 (1999)
Studies of reasoning have often invoked a distinction between a natural or ordinary consideration of the premises, in which they are interpreted, and even distorted, in the light of empirical knowledge, and an analytic or logical consideration of the premises, in which they are analysed in a literal fashion for their logical implications. Two or three years of schooling have been seen as critical for the spontaneous use of analytic reasoning. In two experiments, however, 4-year-olds who were given brief instructions that prompted use of an analytic approach continued to adopt this approach one week later. Thus, when given syllogistic problems in which the major premise was incongruent with their empirical knowledge (e.g. "All snow is black"), instructed children reasoned more accurately from that premise both immediately and a week later as compared to children given only a basic introduction. A third experiment showed that instructions also improved 4-year-olds' performance on hard-to-imagine, abstract material (e.g."All mib is white"). Similarities between the effects of brief instruction and of schooling are discussed.
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Paul L. Harris (2002). Checking Our Sources: The Origins of Trust in Testimony. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 33 (2):315-333.
Paul L. Harris (2001). Thinking About the Unknown. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 5 (11):494-498.

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