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Working memory capacity and the construction of spatial mental models in comprehension and deductive reasoning


Oberauer, Klaus; Weidenfeld, Andrea; Hörnig, Robin (2006). Working memory capacity and the construction of spatial mental models in comprehension and deductive reasoning. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59(2):426-447.

Abstract

We asked 149 high-school students who were pretested for their working memory capacity (WMC) to read spatial descriptions relating to five objects and to evaluate conclusions asserting an unmentioned relationship between two of the objects. Unambiguous descriptions were compatible with a single spatial arrangement, whereas ambiguous descriptions permitted two arrangements; a subset of the ambiguous descriptions still determined the relation asserted in the conclusion, whereas another subset did not. Two groups of participants received different instructions: The deduction group should accept conclusions only if they followed with logical necessity from the description, whereas the comprehension group should accept a conclusion if it agreed with their representation of the arrangement. Self-paced reading times increased on sentences that introduced an ambiguity, replicating previous findings in deductive reasoning experiments. This effect was also found in the comprehension group, casting doubt on the interpretation that people consider multiple possible arrangements online. Responses to conclusions could be modelled by a multinomial processing model with four parameters: the probability of constructing a correct mental model, the probability of detecting an ambiguity, and two guessing parameters. Participants with high and with low WMC differed mainly in the probability of successfully constructing a mental model.

Abstract

We asked 149 high-school students who were pretested for their working memory capacity (WMC) to read spatial descriptions relating to five objects and to evaluate conclusions asserting an unmentioned relationship between two of the objects. Unambiguous descriptions were compatible with a single spatial arrangement, whereas ambiguous descriptions permitted two arrangements; a subset of the ambiguous descriptions still determined the relation asserted in the conclusion, whereas another subset did not. Two groups of participants received different instructions: The deduction group should accept conclusions only if they followed with logical necessity from the description, whereas the comprehension group should accept a conclusion if it agreed with their representation of the arrangement. Self-paced reading times increased on sentences that introduced an ambiguity, replicating previous findings in deductive reasoning experiments. This effect was also found in the comprehension group, casting doubt on the interpretation that people consider multiple possible arrangements online. Responses to conclusions could be modelled by a multinomial processing model with four parameters: the probability of constructing a correct mental model, the probability of detecting an ambiguity, and two guessing parameters. Participants with high and with low WMC differed mainly in the probability of successfully constructing a mental model.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Date:2006
Deposited On:08 Jul 2014 09:10
Last Modified:26 Aug 2016 09:57
Publisher:Taylor & Francis
ISSN:1747-0218
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1080/17470210500151717

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