Reasoning processes in clinical reasoning: from the perspective of cognitive psychology

Korean J Med Educ. 2019 Dec;31(4):299-308. doi: 10.3946/kjme.2019.140. Epub 2019 Nov 29.


Clinical reasoning is considered a crucial concept in reaching medical decisions. This paper reviews the reasoning processes involved in clinical reasoning from the perspective of cognitive psychology. To properly use clinical reasoning, one requires not only domain knowledge but also structural knowledge, such as critical thinking skills. In this paper, two types of reasoning process required for critical thinking are discussed: inductive and deductive. Inductive and deductive reasoning processes have different features and are generally appropriate for different types of tasks. Numerous studies have suggested that experts tend to use inductive reasoning while novices tend to use deductive reasoning. However, even experts sometimes use deductive reasoning when facing challenging and unfamiliar problems. In clinical reasoning, expert physicians generally use inductive reasoning with a holistic viewpoint based on a full understanding of content knowledge in most cases. Such a problem-solving process appears as a type of recognition-primed decision making only in experienced physicians' clinical reasoning. However, they also use deductive reasoning when distinct patterns of illness are not recognized. Therefore, medical schools should pursue problem-based learning by providing students with various opportunities to develop the critical thinking skills required for problem solving in a holistic manner.

Keywords: Clinical reasoning; Critical thinking skills; Deductive reasoning; Inductive reasoning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Decision-Making*
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Science*
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Problem Solving
  • Thinking