Reasoning about Necessity and Possibility: A Test of the Mental Model Theory of Deduction

Jonathan St B T Evans*, Simon J. Handley, Catherine N J Harper, Philip N. Johnson-Laird

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Citations (Scopus)


This article examined syllogistic reasoning that differs from previous research in 2 significant ways: (a) Participants were asked to decide whether conclusions were possible as well as necessary, and (b) every possible combination of syllogistic premises and conclusions was presented for evaluation with both single-premise (Experiment 1) and double-premise (Experiment 2) problems. Participants more frequently endorsed conclusions as possible than as necessary, and differences in response to the 2 forms of instruction conformed to several predictions derived from the mental model theory of deduction. Findings of Experiments 2 and 3 showed that some fallacies are consistently endorsed and others consistently resisted when people are asked to judge whether conclusions that are only possible follow necessarily. This finding was accounted for by the computational implementation of the model theory: Fallacies are made when the first mental model of the premises considered supports the conclusion presented.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1495-1513
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1999
Externally publishedYes


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