One long-standing research question pursued in the lab is, what sorts of mental representations and cognitive processes do people rely on to make deductive inferences? A current set of experiments with Dr. Isabel Orenes, UNED Madrid, who visited TCIN for three months in Michaelmas term 2016, uses eye-tracking in the visual world paradigm to examine whether people envisage a single possibility when they understand counterfactual conditionals or whether they consider alternative possibilities. Isabel gave a talk on this project at the international meeting on reasoning in London in July. Another set of experiments with Dr Orlando Espino, La Laguna University, Tenerife, who visited TCIN for several weeks last semester, examines whether people construct embodied representations or iconic ones that can contain symbols when they reason with conditionals, by measuring the inferences people construct. Ruth gave a talk on these projects at the Interdisciplinary workshop on counterfactual thinking in Toronto in November, and at the annual conference on logic and cognition in Poznan in September.A third project, with Dr Sabrina Haimovici, postdoctoral fellow from the philosophy department at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina who has been a visiting researcher at TCIN since 2015, examines dual process accounts of reasoning. Sabrina gave a talk on this project at the International Thinking Conference in Brown University, Rhode Island in August. A fourth project with Marta Couto, who was recently awarded her PhD from ISPA Lisbon and who visited TCIN for several weeks each year during her PhD, examined reasoning with advice conditionals and has recently been published: Couto, M., Quelhas, A. C., & Byrne, R. M. J. (2017). Advice conditionals about tips and warnings: interpretations and inferences. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, in press. Some of this research is funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology.
A recent research question examined in the lab is, how do people make moral judgments?
One project carried out by Mary Parkinson who was awarded her PhD last year, examines whether moral reasoning relies on domain specific or domain general mechanisms, by measuring the judgments of wrongness and moral responsibility that people make when they read about transgressions of various sorts. Mary has recently published some of these experiments: Parkinson, M., & Byrne, R. M. J.(2017). Judgments of moral responsibility and wrongness for intentional and accidental harm and purity violations. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, in press. Shane Timmons who is currently carrying out his PhD, has examined the effects of cognitive fatigue on moral judgment, by testing the moral decisions people make after they have carried out laboratory tasks designed to deplete cognitive resources, or after they have carried out everyday tiring tasks such as attending an evening statistics lecture. Shane gave a talk on these experiments at the International Thinking Conference in Brown University, Rhode Island in August. A third project examines how people reason about morally inspiring actions, by testing people’s moral judgments and pro-social helping behavior after they have read uplifting newspaper stories about noble self-sacrificial acts. Ruth talked about some of these experiments at the summer school in cognitive sciences at the University of Quebec at Montreal in June and at the EASP meeting on counterfactual thinking in Aix-en-Provence in June. This research is funded by the Irish Research Council and the John Templeton Foundation US. Ruth has recently written an invited article in Current Directions in Psychological Science on some of this work: Byrne, R.M.J. (2017). Counterfactual thinking: from logic to morality. Current Directions in Psychological Science. In press.
How do people imagine alternatives to reality and create thoughts about how the past might have turned out differently ‘if only…’ or thoughts about how it might have turned out the same ‘even if…’? In one project, with PhD student Raluca Briazu from the University of Plymouth, who visited TCIN for three months in Hilary term 2016, the effects of ‘if only’ thoughts on deception have been examined. Raluca gave a talk on counterfactuals and deception at the International Thinking Conference in Brown University, Rhode Island in August. Another project with Celia Rasga, who was recently awarded her PhD from ISPA Lisbon and who visited TCIN for several months each year during her PhD, examined children’s counterfactual reasoning and false belief reasoning about intentions and has recently been published: Rasga, C., Quelhas, A.C., & Byrne, R.M.J. (2016). Children’s reasoning about other’s intentions: False-belief and counterfactual conditional inferences, Cognitive Development, 40, 46 – 59. A similar study has recently been completed with children with autistic spectrum disorder.
Ruth talked about some of these ideas at the Center for Language, Logic and Cognition in Turin in April and at the Workshop on the Scientific Imagination in LSE London in October. Some of the research was funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. A third project, with Dr Marta Straga from the University of Ferrara, who visited TCIN for one month in Michaelmas term 2016, compares the counterfactual alternatives that people construct about the past (‘things would have been better for me if…’) to the prefactual alternatives that they construct about the future (‘things will be better for me if…’) when they attempt to solve puzzles. Ruth published an invited review on counterfactual thinking in the Annual Review of Psychology in 2016: Byrne, R.M.J. (2016). Counterfactual Thought. Annual Review of Psychology. 67, 135–157