The relevance of selecting what's relevant: A dual process approach to transitive reasoning with spatial relations

Thinking and Reasoning 13 (2):164 – 187 (2007)
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Abstract

The present paper focuses on the heuristic selection process preceding the actual transitive reasoning process. A part of the difficulty of transitive reasoning lies in the selection of the relevant problem aspects. Two experiments are presented using the paradigm introduced by Markovits, Dumas, and Malfait (1995), in which children were asked to make “higher than” inferences about arrays of coloured blocks. In order to discriminate between genuine transitive inference and a simple strategy of relative position, Markovits et al. interspersed white blocks with the coloured blocks, such that the relative position strategy leads to erroneous responses. However, we argue that the white blocks cause confusion due to their ambiguity, which interferes with the heuristic selection process. Two methodological adaptations were introduced, which are hypothesised to facilitate the selection process and improve transitive reasoning: (1) the white blocks were replaced by coloured blocks, and (2) a less abstract context was added to the experimental design. The colour manipulation leads to a clear increase in the use of a transitive strategy by 9-year-old children; 8-year-old children mainly used the relative position strategy. When adding a context story, 9-year-old children used the transitive strategy regardless of the colour of the interspersed blocks. The overall performance of 8-year-olds improved slightly. These results are interpreted as support for a dual-process model of transitive reasoning.

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