New paper on negation and counterfactual reasoning out in Current Psychology

Jesica Gómez-Sánchez and her colleagues Sergio Moreno-Ríos and Caren Frosch recently published a new paper in Current Psychology on how counterfactual reasoning interacts with thinking about negation. They find that both children and adults construct counterfactuals that serve as causes of effects. For instance, in the following conditional: “If Eva had studied art, she would have worked at the Louvre Museum”, people might think about the presupposed factual state of affairs (that Eva didn’t study art) or alternative counterfactual states (e.g., she studied art and worked at the Louvre or she studied art and didn’t work at the Louvre). The authors investigated how people construct mental simulations of the presupposed factual state of affairs, namely whether they construct an abstract negation (not studying art) or a more concrete state of affairs (where Eva studied psychology).

Their abstract is available here:

Reasoning with counterfactuals such as “if his sister had entered silently, the child would have been awake”, requires considering what is conjectured (“his sister entered silently”) and what is the counterfactual possibility (“his sister did not enter silently”). In two experiments, we test how both adults (Study 1) and children from 8 to 12 years (Study 2) construct counterfactual possibilities about the cause of an effect (“the child was awake because…”). We test specifically whether people construct the counterfactual possibility by recovering alternatives, for example, “the alarm clock sounded” or by using the syntactic negation using propositional symbols (“his sister did not enter silently”). Moreover, as children show difficulty in thinking with abstract contents, we test whether they construct the counterfactual possibility more readily by recovering concrete alternatives (“the alarm clock sounded”) rather than abstract alternatives (“he had trouble sleeping”). Results showed that children, as well as adults, recovered the alternative as the cause of the effect rather than the negation. Moreover, children, unlike adults, created the counterfactual possibility more frequently by recovering concrete situations rather than abstract situations.

And you can download the full paper here and consult their data here.

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