Deduction from Uncertain Premises

Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A 48 (3):613-643 (1995)
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We investigate how the perceived uncertainty of a conditional affects a person's choice of conclusion. We use a novel procedure to introduce uncertainty by manipulating the conditional probability of the consequent given the antecedent. In Experiment 1, we show first that subjects reduce their choice of valid conclusions when a conditional is followed by an additional premise that makes the major premise uncertain. In this we replicate Byrne. These subjects choose, instead, a qualified conclusion expressing uncertainty. If subjects are given a third statement that qualifies the likelihood of the additional premise, then the uncertainty of the conclusions they choose is systematically related to the suggested uncertainty. Experiment 2 confirms these observations in problems that omit the additional premise and qualify the first premise directly. Experiment 3 shows that the qualifying statement also affects the perceived probability of the consequent given the antecedent of the conditional. Experiment 4 investigates the effect of suggested uncertainty on the fallacies and shows that increases in uncertainty reduce the number of certain conclusions that are chosen while affirming the consequent but have no effect on denying the antecedent. We discuss our results in terms of rule theories and mental models and conclude that the latter give the most natural account of our results



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