Heuristic and analytic processes in reasoning


  • This is an expanded version of a paper read to a conference on the ‘Psychological content of logic’, at the University of Tilburg, Holland, in October 1982.

Department of Psychology, Plymouth Polytechnic, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK.


A general two-stage theory of human inference is proposed. A distinction is drawn between heuristic processes which select items of task information as ‘relevant’, and analytic processes which operate on the selected items to generate inferences or judgements.

These two stages are illustrated in a selective review of work on both deductive and statistical reasoning. Factors identified as contributing to heuristic selection include perceptual salience, linguistic suppositions and semantic associations. Analytic processes are considered to be context dependent: people reason from experience, not from inference rules. The paper includes discussion of the theory in comparison with other contemporary theories of human inference, and in relation to the current debate about human rationality.