Thinking and Reasoning 12 (2):214 – 234 (2006)
From certain sorts of premise, individuals reliably infer invalid conclusions. Two Experiments investigated a possible cause for these illusory inference: Reasoners fail to think about what is false. In Experiment 1, 24 undergraduates drew illusory and control inferences from premises based on exclusive disjunctions (“or else”). In one block, participants were instructed to falsify the premises of each illusory and control inference before making the inference. In the other block, participants did not receive these instructions. There were more correct answers for illusory disjunctions whose premises had been falsified than there were for illusory disjunctions that had not been falsified. A second Experiment introduced illusory inferences in a real world context that accentuated falsification of premises. Accuracy also improved. Knowledge of how to falsify premises and to consider their implications for true premises transferred to a new problem introduced at the end of the Experiment without the falsification instruction. The participants' ratings of the difficulty of the inferences showed that they did not err simply because illusory inferences are perceived to be more difficult than control problems. The model theory predicts these results because it postulates that the limitations of working memory preclude the representation of false information.
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