Is inferential reasoning just probabilistic reasoning in disguise?

Henry Markovits*, Simon Handley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Oaksford, Chater, and Larkin (2000) have suggested that people actually use everyday probabilistic reasoning when making deductive inferences. In two studies, we explicitly compared probabilistic and deductive reasoning with identical if-then conditional premises with concrete content. In the first, adults were given causal premises with one strongly associated antecedent and were asked to make standard deductive inferences or to judge the probabilities of conclusions. In the second, reasoners were given scenarios presenting a causal relation with zero to three potential alternative antecedents. The participants responded to each set of problems under both deductive and probabilistic instructions. The results show that deductive and probabilistic inferences are not isomorphic. Probabilistic inferences can model deductive responses only using a limited, very high threshold model, which is equivalent to a simple retrieval model. These results provide a clearer understanding of the relations between probabilistic and deductive inferences and the limitations of trying to consider these two forms of inference as having a single underlying process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1315-1323
Number of pages9
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


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