Thinking About the Opposite of What Is Said: Counterfactual Conditionals and Symbolic or Alternate Simulations of Negation

Cognitive Science 42 (8):2459-2501 (2018)
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When people understand a counterfactual such as “if the flowers had been roses, the trees would have been orange trees,” they think about the conjecture, “there were roses and orange trees,” and they also think about its opposite, the presupposed facts. We test whether people think about the opposite by representing alternates, for example, “poppies and apple trees,” or whether models can contain symbols, for example, “no roses and no orange trees.” We report the discovery of an inference‐to‐alternates effect—a tendency to make an affirmative inference that refers to an alternate even from a negative minor premise, for example, “there were no orange trees, therefore there were poppies.” Nine experiments show the inference‐to‐alternates effect occurs in a binary context, but not a multiple context, and for direct and indirect reference; it can be induced and reduced by prior experience with similar inferences, and it also occurs for indicative conditionals. The results have implications for theories of counterfactual conditionals, and of negation.



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Ruth Mary Josephine Byrne
Trinity College, Dublin