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Conditional Reasoning With False Premises Facilitates the Transition Between Familiar and Abstract Reasoning


  • This study was supported by postgraduate scholarships from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to H. L.-F. and by a Discovery Grant from the NSERC to H. M. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of a previous version of this study for their very helpful suggestions.

concerning this article should be addressed to Henry Markovits, Département de psychologie, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, Succ. “A,” Montréal, QC H3C 3P8, Canada. Electronic mail may be sent to or


Abstract reasoning is critical for science and mathematics, but is very difficult. In 3 studies, the hypothesis that alternatives generation required for conditional reasoning with false premises facilitates abstract reasoning is examined. Study 1 (= 372) found that reasoning with false premises improved abstract reasoning in 12- to 15-year-olds. Study 2 (= 366) found a positive effect of simply generating alternatives, but only in 19-year-olds. Study 3 (= 92) found that 9- to 11-year-olds were able to respond logically with false premises, whereas no such ability was observed in 6- to 7-year-olds. Reasoning with false premises was found to improve reasoning with semiabstract premises in the older children. These results support the idea that alternatives generation with false premises facilitates abstract reasoning.

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