Thinking and Reasoning 13 (4):394-425 (2007)

How do people use past experience to generalise to novel cases? This paper reports four experiments exploring the significance on one class of past experiences: encounters with negative or contrasting cases. In trying to decide whether all ravens are black, what is the effect of learning about a non-raven that is not black? Two experiments with preschool-aged, young school-aged, and adult participants revealed that providing a negative example in addition to a positive example supports generalisation. Two additional experiments went on to ask which kinds of negative examples offer the most support for generalisations. These studies contrasted similarity-based and category-based accounts of inductive generalisation. Results supported category-based predictions, but only for preschool-aged children. Overall, the younger children showed a greater reliance on negative evidence than did older children and adults. Most things we encounter in the world are negative evidence for our generalisations. Understanding the role of negative evidence is central for psychological theories of inductive generalisation.
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DOI 10.1080/13546780701273402
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