Context, visual salience, and inductive reasoning

Thinking and Reasoning 6 (4):349 – 374 (2000)
An important debate in the reasoning literature concerns the extent to which inference processes are domain-free or domain-specific. Typically, evidence in support of the domain-specific position comprises the facilitation observed when abstract reasoning tasks are set in realistic context. Three experiments are reported here in which the sources of facilitation were investigated for contextualised versions of Raven's Progressive Matrices (Richardson, 1991) and non-verbal analogies from the AH4 test (Richardson & Webster, 1996). Experiment 1 confirmed that the facilitation observed for the contextualised matrices was in part due to extraneous aspects of commentaries originally intended to activate domainspecific processes. Experiments 2 and 3 indicated that the remainder of the facilitation for the matrices, and all of the facilitation for the analogies, could be explained by visual salience: Converting the item elements into realistic objects had enabled them and their transitions to be identified more easily. Hence, performance at simplified abstract items was as good as, or better than, at contextualised items. It is concluded that facilitation effects cannot be interpreted as showing that domain-specific processes constitute a self-contained system separate from domain-free processes. In turn, this means that domain-free processes cannot be dismissed as being unimportant for reasoning.
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