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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

February 2011, Vol. 23, No. 2, Pages 471-480
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21360)
© 2010 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Reasoning with Exceptions: An Event-related Brain Potentials Study
Article PDF (366.3 KB)

Defeasible inferences are inferences that can be revised in the light of new information. Although defeasible inferences are pervasive in everyday communication, little is known about how and when they are processed by the brain. This study examined the electrophysiological signature of defeasible reasoning using a modified version of the suppression task. Participants were presented with conditional inferences (of the type “if p, then q; p, therefore q”) that were preceded by a congruent or a disabling context. The disabling context contained a possible exception or precondition that prevented people from drawing the conclusion. Acceptability of the conclusion was indeed lower in the disabling condition compared to the congruent condition. Further, we found a large sustained negativity at the conclusion of the disabling condition relative to the congruent condition, which started around 250 msec and was persistent throughout the entire epoch. Possible accounts for the observed effect are discussed.