Proportional reasoning and the linguistic abilities required for hypothetico-deductive reasoning



The hypothesis is advanced that a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for the acquisition of proportional reasoning during adolescence is the prior internalization of key linguistic elements of argumentation, essentially those used in hypothetico-deductive reasoning. This hypothesized internalization, which does not occur in all individuals, results in some who have acquired the ability to reflect upon the correctness of self-generated answers in a hypothetico-deductive manner, and others who have not. As an initial test of the hypothesis, 46 subjects (Ss) (mean age = 21.03 years) were classified into additive, transitional, or proportional reasoning categories based upon responses to a proportions task. Group differences were found in which proportional Ss performed better than transitional Ss who in turn performed better than additive Ss on a number of items testing Ss' abilities to identify, generate, and use the linguistic elements of argumentation. Further it was found that some Ss who were successful on the linguistic items failed the proportions task, but no Ss who were successful on the proportions task failed the linguistic items. This result supports the hypothesis that the internalization of linguistic elements of argumentation is a prerequisite for proportional reasoning and by inference other advanced reasoning schemata as well. Implications for science instruction are drawn.