Memory & Cognition

, Volume 46, Issue 5, pp 657–670 | Cite as

Reasoning from an incompatibility: False dilemma fallacies and content effects

  • Janie Brisson
  • Henry Markovits
  • Serge Robert
  • Walter Schaeken


In the present studies, we investigated inferences from an incompatibility statement. Starting with two propositions that cannot be true at the same time, these inferences consist of deducing the falsity of one from the truth of the other or deducing the truth of one from the falsity of the other. Inferences of this latter form are relevant to human reasoning since they are the formal equivalent of a discourse manipulation called the false dilemma fallacy, often used in politics and advertising in order to force a choice between two selected options. Based on research on content-related variability in conditional reasoning, we predicted that content would have an impact on how reasoners treat incompatibility inferences. Like conditional inferences, they present two invalid forms for which the logical response is one of uncertainty. We predicted that participants would endorse a smaller proportion of the invalid incompatibility inferences when more counterexamples are available. In Study 1, we found the predicted pattern using causal premises translated into incompatibility statements with many and few counterexamples. In Study 2A, we replicated the content effects found in Study 1, but with premises for which the incompatibility statement is a non-causal relation between classes. These results suggest that the tendency to fall into the false dilemma fallacy is modulated by the background knowledge of the reasoner. They also provide additional evidence on the link between semantic information retrieval and deduction.


Deductive reasoning Incompatibility False dilemma Counterexamples Information retrieval 


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janie Brisson
    • 1
  • Henry Markovits
    • 1
  • Serge Robert
    • 1
  • Walter Schaeken
    • 2
  1. 1.Departments of Psychology and PhilosophyUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontréalCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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