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Johnson-Laird, P.N. and Lee, N.Y.L. (2006). Are there cross-cultural differences in reasoning? Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, (pp. 459-464).

  author =    {Johnson-Laird, P. N. and Lee, N. Y. L.},
  title =     {Are there cross-cultural differences in reasoning?},
 booktitle =  {Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science  Society},
  pages =     {459-464},
  year =      {2006},
  month =    {July},
  ISBN =      {0-9768318-2-1}

Author of Summary- Meaghan McManus, 2010, m.mcmanus1@hotmail.com

The actual paper can be found at: http://weblamp.princeton.edu/~psych/psychology/research/johnson_laird/pdfs/2006Lee&JL-X-CulturalCogSci-06.pdf


Some psychologists argue that culture may be responsible for some of the differences in our method of reasoning. They believe that distinct socio-historic traditions caused cognitive reasoning abilities to develop differently among socio-historic groups. For example, ancient Chinese society was communal and prized social harmony and cooperation while ancient Greek society was individual oriented, and prized logic and criticism. These psychologists conclude that because of this, modern day East Asians will reason based on experience, will reason more dialectically and will tolerate contradictions more than Westerners (modern day Greeks). Westerners, on the other hand, will reason in a more analytical and logic way.


The two competing theories presented are that either “people from different cultures use different cognitive processes when they reason” [p.459]. Or that culture influences a person’s primary reasoning strategy, which would be built off of cognitive processes. If the process we reason with is cognitive as opposed to just a strategy then it would be much more difficult, even impossible to switch between ‘strategies’. However if a person’s reasoning process was just a strategy, it should be fairly easy to adopt other strategies when needed.

Humans reason by constructing mental models; which are constrained by the principle of truth, and then coming to a conclusion based on what is determined to be valid. So reasoning cannot be a “fixed deterministic process” (cognitive) as knowledge can help to formulate and block certain mental representations [p.460]. The experiments are testing to see if there are any differences in deductive reasoning between Westerners and East Asians.

Experiment 1

This experiment used inclusive propositions to test to see if it is true that East Asians reasoned more dialectically than Westerners. If they did, they would be more likely to accept contradictions and so less likely to notice them. They then should be more likely then Westerners to succumb to the illusion of inconsistency and less likely to succumb to the illusion of consistency.

Participants were shown different assertions such as the one below:
(Example taken from page 460)

The man is very patriotic or, the man is hot-blooded, or both.
The man is hot-blooded, and the man joins the army

The following assertion is definitely true:

The man is hot-blood, and this man joins the army.

The four possible mental models were:

Very patriotic
Very patriotic and hot-blooded, or
Hot-blooded and joins the army

There is a tendency to view the absence of something as a negation. The participants were then shown a few fully explicit models (so including a negation) which may or may not correspond to the implicit “or” statement.

By viewing these fully explicit models some the participants may succumb to the illusion of consistency and when asked to write a description of the man, would write

Not very patriotic, hot blooded, and joins the army

This is inconsistent

An analogous problem should cause the opposite effect and should lead to the illusion of inconsistency (no example was given).

Twenty Volunteers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and twenty participants from Princeton University received two sets of eight problems.
There were two illusions of inconsistency and consistency respectively and each had its own two control problems whose results were expected to be correctly answered.

Results and Discussion:
East Asians and Westerners were equally likely to succumb to illusions of consistency, and both groups were equally likely to succumb to the illusions of inconsistency. Both were more likely to succumb “to the illusion of consistency, and preformed better with the control problems”[p.462].

Experiment 2

The purpose of the second experiment was to see if East Asians make more inductions based on knowledge and if Westerners relay more on deductive reasoning.

If a pilot falls from the plane without a parachute then he dies
This pilot did not die, however
Why not? [p. 462]

The above example is ambiguous as it is able to be solved both inductively and deductively. Deductive reason would conclude that the pilot had a parachute, while inductive reasoning could conclude that the plane was on the ground.

Thirty participants from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and twenty one participants from Princeton University answered three ambiguous questions. Twenty of the Hong Kong participants completed a deductive reasoning task before hand and ten of the Princeton participants participated in the first experiment beforehand.

Results and Discussion:
Both groups tended to respond deductively, 1.57/3 deductive responses for the Hong Kong participants and 1.86/3 for the Princeton participants [p.462]. The difference was not significant. However both participants were more likely to reason deductively after doing a previous deductive task. This result indicates strongly that reasoning is a strategy and not cognitively based.

Sumamry Authors Notes