Innovative Learning


Reasoning encompasses all thinking activities that involve making or testing inferences. This includes inductive reasoning (i.e., concept formation) and deductive reasoning (i.e., logical argument). Reasoning is also closely related to problem-solving and creativity.

Concept formation has always been a central concern of learning theories over the decades. Behavioral theories such as Hull or Guthrie explain concept attainment in terms of pairing of certain stimuli with the same response (i.e., name of the concept). Furthermore, the principles of stimulus generalization and differentiation account for categorization behaviors.

On the other hand, cognitive approaches such as Bruner and Scandura proposed that concept learning was an active process of hypothesis generation and rule formation. Mathematical learning theory suggested that hypothesis testing could be explained probabilistically. Many theorists from Osgood to Schank have argued that concept learning can be understood on the basis of semantic principles. In addition, instructional psychologists such as Gagne and Merrill have made concept learning a central part of their instructional theory.

Research on deductive reasoning has historically focused on the solving of logical or mathematics problems (such as syllogisms or series). Indeed, one of the central questions of this research has been why people are so poor at logical reasoning. For example, it is well established that people have difficulty reaching valid conclusions with negative premises. Another common mistake is the "undistributed middle" (i.e., Given All S is M, and All P is M, concluding All S is P) which Woodworth & Sells explained as the "atmosphere effect" of the qualifiers (All or Some establish a response set).

It has also discovered that people generally perform better with relations that can be visualized, leading to a spatial representation theory for reasoning and eventually, a semantic theory. See Revlin & Mayer (1978), Wason & Johnson-Laird (1972) or Johnson-Laird & Byrne (1990) for descriptions of these various theories and supporting research. Recent research has focused on "informal" reasoning or argumentation, particularly in the context of attitudes and social or everyday settings (e.g., Halpern, 1984 ;Voss, Perkins & Segal, 1991).

Reasoning has also been fertile ground for theories of individual differences. In so far as reasoning problems (both inductive and deductive) are common on all forms of ability and achievement tests, they form a basis for differentiating individuals. The work of Guilford and Sternberg suggests that there are many different kinds of reasoning abilities and that reasoning skills are task specific. Research also supports the view that people have characteristic ways of reasoning (i.e., cognitive styles) but can also adopt new methods of reasoning if necessary (i.e., learning strategies).

Finally, there have been a number of theorists who have attempted to develop a single framework that account for both inductive and deductive processes. For example, Margolis (1987) argues that all rule-following processes can be reduced to pa ttern recogn ition sequences and Holland et al. (1986) use the concept of mental models to explain reasoning.


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Holland, J.H., Holyoak, K.J., Nisbett, R.E., Thagard, P.R. (1986). Induction: Processes of Inference, Learning and Discovery. Cambridge , MA: MIT Press.

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Margolis, H. (1987). Patterns, Thinking and Cognition. Chicag o: University of Chicago < Press.

Revlin, R. & Mayer, R. (1978). Human Reasoning. Washington , DC < : Winston.

Voss, J.F., Perkins, D.N., & Segal, J.W. (1991). Informal Reasoning and Education. Hillsdale , NJ: Erlbaum.

Wason, P. & Johnson-Laird, P. ( 1972). Psychology of Reasoning: Structure and Content. Cambridge , MA: Harvard University < Press.