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An Electroencephalogram Investigation of Two Modes of Reasoning

Maddox, Chaille B.

The use of electroencephalography (EEG) to exam the electrical brain activity associated with reasoning provides an opportunity to quantify the functional and temporal aspects of this uniquely human capability, and at the same time expand our knowledge about what a given event-related potential (ERP) might measure. The question of what form of mental representation and transformational processes underlie human reasoning has been a central theme in cognitive psychology since its inception (Chomsky, 1957; McCarthy, 1955; Miller, 1956; Newell, Shaw, Simon, 1958). Two prominent, but competing views remain at the forefront of the discussion, one positing that human inference making is principally syntactic (Braine & O'Brien, 1998; Fodor, 1975; Pylyshyn, 1984; Rips, 1994), and the other that it is, fundamentally, semantic in nature (Gentner & Stevens, 1983; Johnson-Laird, 1983). The purpose of the proposed study is to investigate the neurophysiology of mental model (MM) and mental rule (MR) reasoning using high-density electroencephalography (EEG), with the goal of providing a characterization of the time course and a general estimate of the spatial dimensions of the brain activations correlated with these specific instances of two classic views of reasoning. The research is motivated by two questions: 1) Will violations of expectancy established by the devised MM and MR reasoning strategies evoke the N400 and P600 ERPs, respectively, and 2) Will topographical scalp distributions associated with each reasoning strategy suggest distinct psychological representations and processes? A finding of a N400 response in the MM condition suggests that reasoning about the relations between entities in the type of problems presented engages a network of cortical areas previously shown to be involved in processing violations of semantic expectancies in studies of language comprehension. By comparison, incongruent events in the MR condition are expected to evoke a bilateral anterior P600, a component previously associated with recognizing and restructuring syntactic anomalies or incongruities in sentence comprehension. If the hypothesized results are obtained they would provide potentially insightful information about the chronometry of mental processes associated with the different representations and inference making mechanisms postulated to support each mode of reasoning, and as well, broaden our understanding of the neural functionality associated with the N400 and P600 ERP.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Froud, Karen
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 1, 2012