, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 115-124

Working memory and strategies in syllogistic-reasoning tasks

Abstract

It has often been asserted that working-memory limitations are a major factor contributing to problem difficulty; for example, Johnson-Laird’s (1983) mental-models theory appeals to working memory limitations to explain the difficulty of syllogistic reasoning. However, few studies have directly explored working memory in problem solving in general or syllogistic reasoning in particular. This paper reports two studies. In the first, working-memory load was varied by presenting syllogistic tasks either verbally or visually (so that the premises were continuous1y avai1ab1e for inspection). A significant effect of memory load was obtained. In the second study, premises were presented visually for a subject-determined time. Dual-task methods were used to assess the role of working-memory components, as identified in Baddeley’s (1986) model. Syllogistic performance was disrupted by concurrent random-number generation but not by concurrent articulatory suppression or by concurrent tapping in a preset pattern. Furthermore, the concurrent syllogism task interfered with random generation and to a lesser extent with articulatory suppression, but not with tapping. We conclude that while the central-executive component of working memory played a major role in the syllogistic-task performance reported here, the articulatory loop had a lesser role, and the visuospatial scratch pad was not involved.