Reasoning from Suppositions

Ruth M J Byrne, Simon J. Handley, Philip N. Johnson-Laird

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Two experiments investigated inferences based on suppositions. In Experiment 1, the subjects decided whether suppositions about individuals’ veracity were consistent with their assertions—for example, whether the supposition “Ann is telling the truth and Beth is telling a lie”, is consistent with the premises: “Ann asserts: I am telling the truth and Beth is telling the truth. Beth asserts: Ann is telling the truth”. It showed that these inferences are more difficult than ones based on factual premises: “Ann asserts: I live in Dublin and Beth lives in Dublin”. There was no difference between problems about truthtellers and liars, who always told the truth or always lied, and normals, who sometimes told the truth and sometimes lied. In Experiment 2, the subjects made inferences about factual matters set in three contexts: a truth-inducing context in which friends confided their personality characteristics, a lie-inducing context in which business rivals advertised their products, and a neutral context in which computers printed their program characteristics. Given the supposition that the individuals were lying, it was more difficult to make inferences in a truth-inducing context than in the other two contexts. We discuss the implications of our results for everyday reasoning from suppositions, and for theories of reasoning based on models or inference rules.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)915-944
Number of pages30
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 1995
Externally publishedYes


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