Being confronted with new or complex situations such as figuring out what’s wrong with a broken down vehicle, finding the best itinerary for a trip, planning a garden, or beating your chess opponent can greatly challenge our various forms of executive (frontal) function: inferential, analogical, and automatic.
Below are the necessary steps for establishing a reasoning (hypothetical-deductive) strategy:
Attention: In order to solve a problem it is necessary to focus attention on all available information and to then determine the most relevant pieces. Attention also allows us to ignore any interferences that might disturb the reasoning process. It can also help us disregard automatic answers that have been generated by the brain but that are inadequate for the situation.
Example: Waiting at a STOP sign when a traffic cop is signaling us to move on.
Memory: Long-term memory is particularly involved in reasoning as we use ready-made action plans stored in our memory to solve new problems. Working memory also intervenes and helps us to consciously keep essential elements of the problem in mind and work on the various available elements, such as a series of numbers during mental calculation.
Mental imaging: The ability to mentally create an image also greatly contributes to an effective reasoning process. It allows us to create, imagine, or anticipate future chess moves and to keep information in mind, to compare situations, to mentally rotate objects in order to decide, for instance, whether a wardrobe fits into a certain space.