The effect of instructions and information retrieval on accepting the premises in a conditional reasoning task

Thinking and Reasoning 5 (2):97 – 113 (1999)
Some studies have reported that, under some circumstances, participants sometimes reject the truth of conditional premises and give incorrect uncertain conclusions to MP and MT, despite the standard instructions to assume the truth of the premises. Instructions that emphasise the logical nature of the task, on the other hand, increase the number of valid conclusions to these two inferences. In this paper, we examine two possible explanations for the influence of instructions on the production of valid conclusions: (1) instructions trigger a logical mode of thinking that is appropriate for the task to be solved, and (2) instructions affect the way that retrieved information is used when constructing a mental representation of the premises. In order to compare these two hypothesis, we used conditional causal relations having either many or few disabling conditions (i.e. cases of P and not-Q) and presented them in four different instructional conditions. When presented with the standard instructions to suppose the premises to be true, MP and MT inferences show a relatively low percentage of valid conclusions. However, when the logical nature of the task and the necessity to assume the truth of the premises are emphasised, the number of valid conclusions greatly increases. Also, if disabling conditions are made explicit or generated before the presentation of these logical instructions, the performance on MP and MT is lower than when only the logical instructions are presented. Finally, the instructions had no effect on AC and DA. From these results, we concluded that the instructions had an effect on the use of retrieved information rather than on inducing different modes of thinking.
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