Mental models in propositional reasoning and working memory's central executive

Thinking and Reasoning 13 (4):370 – 393 (2007)

We examine the role of working memory's central executive in the mental model explanation of propositional reasoning by using two working memory measures: the classical “reading span” test by Daneman and Carpenter (1980) and a new measure. This new “reasoning span” measure requires individuals to solve very simple anaphora problems, and store and remember the word solution in a growing series of inferential problems. We present one experiment in which we check the involvement of the central executive in conditional and disjunctive inference tasks and compare predictions of the new reasoning span test with those of the classical reading span test. The results of the experiment confirm that reasoning responses, which according to mental model theory require high cognitive work, are predicted by working memory measures. Results also show that some reasoning responses are probably obtained by means of superficial biases or strategies that do not load working memory. The reasoning span test, which involves the central executive to a greater degree, predicts reasoning performance better than the reading span test. The significance and possibilities of the new measure in studying reasoning are discussed.
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