Probability in reasoning: A developmental test on conditionals

  • Barrouillet P
  • Gauffroy C
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Probabilistic theories have been claimed to constitute a new paradigm for the psychology of reasoning. A key assumption of these theories is captured by what they call the Equation, the hypothesis that the meaning of the conditional is probabilistic in nature and that the probability of If p then q is the conditional probability, in such a way that P(. if p then q). =. P(. q|. p). Using the probabilistic truth-table task in which participants are required to evaluate the probability of If p then q sentences, the present study explored the pervasiveness of the Equation through ages (from early adolescence to adulthood), types of conditionals (basic, causal, and inducements) and contents. The results reveal that the Equation is a late developmental achievement only endorsed by a narrow majority of educated adults for certain types of conditionals depending on the content they involve. Age-related changes in evaluating the probability of all the conditionals studied closely mirror the development of truth-value judgements observed in previous studies with traditional truth-table tasks. We argue that our modified mental model theory can account for this development, and hence for the findings related with the probability task, which do not consequently support the probabilistic approach of human reasoning over alternative theories.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Conditional
  • Development of reasoning
  • Mental models
  • Probabilities
  • Reasoning

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  • Pierre Barrouillet

  • Caroline Gauffroy

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