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.
- Inferential reasoning by means of hypotheses, deductions and inferences (hypothetical-deductive) is used when we’re faced with a new problem for which we have no “ready” solutions to apply. We are then forced to consider all elements of the problem, to deduce a solution by means of inference and/or develop possible theories to find a solution.
- Analogical reasoning involves adequately “recycling” a solution used in solving a past problem that shares common characteristics with the current problem.
- Automatic reasoning means spontaneously applying a well-known solution used in familiar situations (such as traveling to the store by a familiar mode of transport). It is done through the automatic application of knowledge stored in our memory. These situations require little attention and barely solicit our cognitive resources.
Establishing a Reasoning Strategy
Below are the necessary steps for establishing a reasoning (hypothetical-deductive) strategy:
- Problem analysis and definition of the goal to be achieved
- Choice of strategy – determining the action plan to solve the problem
- if the final goal is too difficult to reach in a single step, intermediate sub goals are defined, making it easier to progress towards the solution
- considering available means to reach the goal, as well as possible constraints
- Selection of a solution from among several possibilities
- Checking the validity of the achieved result in comparison to the initial analysis
Other Cognitive Skills Used for Reasoning
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.