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Journal Article

Reasoning, models, and images: Behavioral measures and cortical activity


Knauff,  M
Department Human Perception, Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Knauff, M., Fangmeier T, Ruff, C., & Johnson-Laird, P. (2003). Reasoning, models, and images: Behavioral measures and cortical activity. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15(4), 559-573. doi:10.1162/089892903321662949.

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The goal of this study was to investigate the neurocognitive processes of mental imagery in deductive reasoning. Behavioral studies yielded four sorts of verbal relations: (1) visuospatial relations that are easy to envisage both visually and spatially; (2) visual relations that are easy to envisage visually but hard to envisage spatially; (3) spatial relations that are hard to envisage visually but easy to envisage spatially; and (4) control relations that are hard to envisage both visually and spatially. In three experiments, visual relations slowed the process of reasoning in comparison with control relations, whereas visuospatial and spatial relations yielded inferences comparable to those of control relations. An experiment using functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that in the absence of any correlated visual input (problems were presented acoustically via headphones), all types of reasoning problems evoked activity in the left middle temporal gyrus, in the right superior parietal cortex, and bilaterally in the precuneus. In the prefrontal cortex, increased activity was found in the middle and inferior frontal gyri. However, only the problems based on visual relations also activated areas of the visual association cortex corresponding to V2. The results indicate that cortical activity during reasoning depends on the nature of verbal relations. All relations elicit mental models that underlie reasoning, but visual relations in addition elicit visual images. This account resolves inconsistencies in the previous literature.