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Children’s transitive reasoning: effects of visual-spatial and linguistic task conditions Drummond, Jane Elizabeth


This research was designed to explore the nature of reasoning. In general, three categories of theories about reasoning (the inferential rule approach, the mental models approach, and the operational constructive approach) are used to explain reasoning. In this research, a simple transitivity of length task was selected as the experimental vehicle to explore these approaches for their veracity. Each approach was assessed for spatial and linguistic conditions which might influence reasoning about transitive length relations. The length difference under consideration in the reasoning task, the order in which the premise statements about the length differences were presented and the linguistic relational term used to describe the length difference were selected as the experimental variables. Three measures of reasoning about transitive length relations were assessed: judgements, judgements-plus-justifications, and necessity understanding. A between-within factorial, cross-sectional design was employed. The order of the premise statements (optimal/control) was manipulated as the experimental between-subjects factor. The two experimental within-subjects factors, length difference (large/small) and linguistic relational term (“longer”/”shorter”), were fully crossed and counterbalanced. Ninety-six preschool and school-age children, evenly divided by gender and age (5-6 years, 7-8 years, 9-10 years), participated in the study. The developmental character of transitive reasoning in the age range studied was confirmed for two of the three measures of reasoning. More failures of judgement were observed when a large length difference was matched with the linguistic relational term “longer” and when a small length difference was matched with the linguistic relational term “shorter” than when the length differences and relational terms were mismatched. The arrangement of the premise figure did indirectly influence any measure of transitive reasoning but a large length difference in combination with the control premise figure was found to increase the frequency of transitive judgements-plus justifications. It is concluded from the analysis of the findings of this research that transitive reasoning about length is likely to result from constructive processes, rather then from application of logical rules. However, it is unclear whether the constructive processes in question are best explained in terms of cognitive operations or in terms of figurative mental models.

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