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. 2018 Apr;39(4):1850-1861.
doi: 10.1002/hbm.23979. Epub 2018 Jan 16.

At the Core of Reasoning: Dissociating Deductive and Non-Deductive Load

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At the Core of Reasoning: Dissociating Deductive and Non-Deductive Load

John P Coetzee et al. Hum Brain Mapp. .

Abstract

In recent years, neuroimaging methods have been used to investigate how the human mind carries out deductive reasoning. According to some, the neural substrate of language is integral to deductive reasoning. According to others, deductive reasoning is supported by a language-independent distributed network including left frontopolar and frontomedial cortices. However, it has been suggested that activity in these frontal regions might instead reflect non-deductive factors such as working memory load and general cognitive difficulty. To address this issue, 20 healthy volunteers participated in an fMRI experiment in which they evaluated matched simple and complex deductive and non-deductive arguments in a 2 × 2 design. The contrast of complex versus simple deductive trials resulted in a pattern of activation closely matching previous work, including frontopolar and frontomedial "core" areas of deduction as well as other "cognitive support" areas in frontoparietal cortices. Conversely, the contrast of complex and simple non-deductive trials resulted in a pattern of activation that does not include any of the aforementioned "core" areas. Direct comparison of the load effect across deductive and non-deductive trials further supports the view that activity in the regions previously interpreted as "core" to deductive reasoning cannot merely reflect non-deductive load, but instead might reflect processes specific to the deductive calculus. Finally, consistent with previous reports, the classical language areas in left inferior frontal gyrus and posterior temporal cortex do not appear to participate in deductive inference beyond their role in encoding stimuli presented in linguistic format.

Keywords: cognitive load; deduction; fMRI; language; propositional calculus; reasoning.

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