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Critics of the model theory

The model theory runs counter to the view that human reasoning relies on rules of inference akin to those of a logical calculus. It is also incompatible with theories that posit rules akin to a probabilistic calculus. Which psychological theory provides the best account of naive human reasoning? The debate surrounding this issue has been long but fruitful: it has led to better experiments, more explicit theories, novel computational models, and extensions of the model theory of thinking and reasoning to new domains. Here we highlight alternative theories and some specific critiques of the model theory.

Note: Newer entries are designated as (new!) below.


Formal rule theories
  • Braine, M.D.S. & O’Brien, D. P. (1991). A theory of ‘if’: a lexical entry reasoning program, and pragmatic principles. Psychological Review, 98, 182-203.
  • Geurts, B. (2003). Reasoning with quantifiers. Cognition, 86, 223-251.
  • Macnamara, J. (1986). A border dispute: The place of logic in psychology.  Cambridge, MA: Bradford Books, MIT Press.
  • O’Brien, D. (2009). Human reasoning requires a mental logic. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 32, 96-97.
  • Osherson, D.N. (1974-6). Logical abilities in children, Vols. 1-4. Hillsdale, NJ:  Erlbaum.
  • Rips, L.J. (1997). Goals for a theory of deduction: Reply to Johnson-Laird. Minds and Machines, 7, 409-427.
  • Rips, L. (1986). Mental muddles. In M. Brand and R. M. Harnish (Eds.), The representation of knowledge and belief, pp. 258-286. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
  • Rips, L.J. (1994). The psychology of proof. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Stenning, K. & Van Lambalgen, M. (2008). Human reasoning and cognitive science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Smith, E.E., Langston, C., & Nisbett, R.E. (1992). The case for rules in reasoning. Cognitive Science, 16, 1-40.


Probability theories
  • Evans, J.St.B.T. & Over, D.E.. (2004). If: Suppositions, pragmatics, and dual processes. Oxford University Press.
  • Handley, S.J., Evans, J.St.B.T., & Thompson, V. (2006). The negated conditional: A litmus test for the suppositional conditional?Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 32, 559-569.
  • Hattori, M. (2016). Probabilistic representation in syllogistic reasoning: A theory to integrate mental models and heuristics. Cognition, 157, 296-320.
  • Oaksford, M. & Chater, N. (2007). Bayesian rationality: The probabilistic approach to human reasoning. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Pfeifer, N. & Kleiter, G.D. (2005). Towards a mental probability logic. Psychologica Belgica, 45, 71-99.
  • Sloman, S. A. (2005). Causal models: How we think about the world and its alternatives. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Tenenbaum, J. B., Griffiths, T. L., & Kemp, C. (2006). Theory-based Bayesian models of inductive learning and reasoning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 309-318.


Domain-specific reasoning theories
  • Cheng, P.W. & Holyoak, K.J. (1985). Pragmatic reasoning schemas. Cognitive Psychology, 17, 391-416.
  • Cosmides, L. (1989). The logic of social exchange. Cognition, 31, 187-276.
  • Gigerenzer, G. & Hug, K. (1992). Domain-specific reasoning: Social contract, cheating, and perspective change. Cognition, 43, 127-171.


Specific critiques of mental models theory
  • Open peer commentaries for Johnson-Laird, P.N. & Byrne, R.M.J. (1993). Précis of deduction. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16, 323-380.
  • Ball, L. & Quayle, J. (2009). Phonological and visual distinctiveness effects in syllogistic reasoning: Implications for mental models theory. Memory & Cognition, 37, 759-768.
  • (new!) Baratgin, J., Douven, I., Evans, J., Oaksford, M., Over, D., & Politzer, G. (2015). The new paradigm and mental models. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19, 547-548.
  • Bonatti, L. (1994). Propositional reasoning by model? Psychological Review, 101, 725-733.
  • Bonatti, L. (1994). Why should we abandon the mental logic hypothesis? Cognition, 50, 17-39.
  • Bonnefon, J.-F. (2004). Reinstatement, floating conclusions, and the credulity of mental model reasoning. Cognitive Science, 28, 621-631.
  • Brase, G.L. (1999). Ecological and evolutionary validity: comments on Johnson-Laird, Legrenzi, Girotto, and Caverni’s (1999) mental-model theory of extensional reasoning. Psychological Review, 106, 62-88.
  • Chater, N. & Oaksford, M. (1993). Logicism, mental models, and everyday reasoning: Reply to Garnham. Mind & Language, 8, 72-89.
  • Fetzer, J.H. (1999). Deduction and mental models. Minds and Machines, 9, 105–110.
  • (new!) Fowler, M.T. (2015). Mental models and meaning: An analysis into the validity of Philip Johnson-Laird’s adoption of Peircean iconism. Unpublished doctoral dissertation.
  • Fugard, A. J. B., Pfeifer, N., & Mayerhofer, B. (2011). Probabilistic theories of reasoning need pragmatics too: modulating relevance in uncertain conditionals.  Journal of Pragmatics, 43, 2034–2042.
  • Fugard, A. J. B., Pfeifer, N., Mayerhofer, B., & Kleiter, G. D. (2011).  How people interpret conditionals: Shifts towards the conditional event.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37, 635–648.
  • Hintikka, J. (1987). Mental models, semantical games, and varieties of intelligence. In L. Vaina (Ed.), Matters of Intelligence: Conceptual Structures in Cognitive Neuroscience (pp. 197–215), Dordrecht: D. Reidel.
  • Hodges, W. (1993). The logical content of theories of deduction. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16, 353–354.
  • Greene, S.B. (1992). Multiple explanations for multiply quantified sentences: are multiple models necessary? Psychological Review, 99, 184-187.
  • Haigh, M., Stewart, A., & Connell, L. (in press). Reasoning as we read: Establishing the probability of causal conditionals. Memory & Cognition, manuscript in press.
  • Handley, S.J., Evans, J. St. B. T., & Thompson, V.A. (2006). The negated conditional: A litmus test for the suppositional conditional? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 32, 559-569.
  • Newstead, S., Handley, S., & Buck, E. (1999). Falsifying mental models: Testing the predictions of theories of syllogistic reasoning. Memory & Cognition, 27, 344-354.
  • O’Brien, D.P., Braine, M.D.S., & Yang, Y. (1994). Propositional reasoning by mental models? Simple to refute in principle and in practice. Psychological Review, 101, 711-724.
  • Politzer, G. (2009). Could it be the case that if I am right my opponents will be pleased? A rejoinder to Johnson-Laird, Byrne and Girotto. Topoi, 28, 81-85.
  • Roberts, M. J. (1993). Human reasoning: Deduction rules or mental models, or both?. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 46(4), 569-589.
  • Rouse, W.B., & Morris, N.M. (1986). On looking into the black box: Prospects and limits in the search for mental models. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 349-363.

The papers listed above are only a partial listing of the extant criticisms of the model theory. If you know of any other criticisms, or if you have published a critique yourself and would like it listed here, please let us know.