Evidence of accurate logical reasoning in online sentence comprehension
Maksymilian Dąbkowski, Roman Feiman
March 2021
 

From Wason’s (1968) selection task to dual-process theories of cognition (Evans & Stanovich, 2013; Kahneman, 2011), a rich psychological literature has argued that fast and automatic reasoning is not normatively accurate. On the other hand, linguistic theories that seek to explain reliable patterns of judgments attribute a high degree of logical sophistication to all linguistic humans. For example, most accounts of the distribution of negative polarity items (NPIs) invoke entailment directionality (e.g. Ladusaw, 1983), presupposing that this logical property can be computed automatically and accurately without logical training. However, outside of acceptability judgements, which have alternative interpretations (c.f. Hoeksema, 2012), there is little evidence that speakers compute this logical property during sentence comprehension (see Agmon et al., 2019). We designed two novel self-paced reading experiments which tested for signatures of accurate inferences made during sentence comprehension. Our findings suggest that language processing involves automatic, accurate, and spontaneous logical computations, even in the absence of a question that requires making these inferences to verify text comprehension (Tiemann, 2014). We discuss our findings in relation to decades of psychological research on dual-process theories which argues the opposite, as well as to more sympathetic accounts of ’natural logic’ in reasoning (e. g. Braine & O’Brien, 1998) and in grammar (e.g. Gajewski, 2002). We argue that logical competence is inherent in language comprehension, which can reveal the human capacity for reasoning more reliably than puzzle-solving tasks.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/005881
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: 34th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing
keywords: entailment, logical, reasoning, inference, quantification, semantics
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