Individual differences and the belief bias effect: Mental models, logical necessity, and abstract reasoning

Thinking and Reasoning 5 (1):1 – 28 (1999)
This study investigated individual differences in the belief bias effect, which is the tendency to accept conclusions because they are believable rather than because they are logically valid. It was observed that the extent of an individual's belief bias effect was unrelated to a number of measures of reasoning competence. Instead, as predicted by mental models theory, it was related to a person's ability to generate alternative representations of premises: the more alternatives a person generated, the less likely they were to show a belief bias effect. In contrast to belief effects, which were predicted by the number of alternatives generated, scores on logical reasoning tasks were predicted by an individual's understanding of the concept of logical necessity. These two mediating variables, ability to generate alternatives and understanding of logical necessity, were themselves predicted by similar variables, such as cognitive motivation and abstract reasoning ability. Our findings strongly support the mental models interpretation of the belief bias effect, and suggest that individual differences in this effect are associated with a specific ability to generate alternatives, rather than with a general logical competence.
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