Pragmatic reasoning schemas

Cognitive Psychology 17 (4):391-416 (1985)
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Abstract

We propose that people typically reason about realistic situations using neither content-free syntactic inference rules nor representations of specific experiences. Rather, people reason using knowledge structures that we term pragmatic reasoning schemas, which are generalized sets of rules defined in relation to classes of goals. Three experiments examined the impact of a “permission schema” on deductive reasoning. Experiment 1 demonstrated that by evoking the permission schema it is possible to facilitate performance in Wason's selection paradigm for subjects who have had no experience with the specific content of the problems. Experiment 2 showed that a selection problem worded in terms of an abstract permission elicited better performance than one worded in terms of a concrete but arbitrary situation, providing evidence for an abstract permission schema that is free of domain-specific content. Experiment 3 provided evidence that evocation of a permission schema affects not only tasks requiring procedural knowledge, but also a linguistic rephrasing task requiring declarative knowledge. In particular, statements in the form if p then q were rephrased into the form p only if q with greater frequency for permission than for arbitrary statements, and rephrasings of permission statements produced a pattern of introduction of modals totally unlike that observed for arbitrary conditional statements. Other pragmatic schemas, such as “causal” and “evidence” schemas can account for both linguistic and reasoning phenomena that alternative hypotheses fail to explain

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