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Implicit transitive inference in humans



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Memory Cognition 2005 33 4 742 750 When logic fails Implicit transitive inference in humans MICHAEL J FRANK and JERRY W RUDY University of Colorado Boulder Colorado WILLIAM B LEVY University of Virginia Charlottesville Virginia and RANDALL C O REILLY University of Colorado Boulder Colorado Transitive inference TI in animals e g choosing A over C on the basis of knowing that A is better than B and B is better than C has been interpreted by some as reflecting a declarative logical inference process We invert this anthropomorphic interpretation by providing evidence that humans can exhibit TI like behavior on the basis of simpler associative mechanisms that underlie many theories of animal learning In this study human participants were trained on a five pair TI problem A B B C C D D E E F and unlike in previous human TI studies were prevented from becoming explicitly aware of the logical hierarchy so they could not employ logical reasoning They were then tested with three problems B versus D B versus E and C versus E Participants only reliably chose B over E whereas the other test conditions yielded chance performance This result is inconsistent with the use of logical reasoning and is instead consistent with an account developed to explain earlier TI studies with rats that found the same pattern of results In this account choice performance is based on differential associative strengths across the stimulus items that develop over training despite equal overt reinforcement When told that John is taller than Bill who is taller than Fred one would logically infer that John is taller than Fred This outcome is often referred to as transitive inference TI It is obvious from the above example that people have the capacity to explicitly encode these statements premises make the logical inference and declare the basis of their conclusion However this same TI behavior has been demonstrated in a wide variety of animal species rats pigeons and primates Davis 1992 Dusek Eichenbaum



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