Transitive Inference in Nonhuman Animals

Olga F. Lazareva

in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Cognition

Second edition

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780195392661
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Transitive Inference in Nonhuman Animals

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  • Cognitive Psychology
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Transitive inference (TI) is a form of deductive reasoning that allows one to derive a relation between items that have not been explicitly compared before. In a general form, TI is the ability to deduce that if Item B is related to Item C and Item C is related to Item D, then Item B must be related to Item D. This chapter begins with discussions of the methodology of nonverbal TI research, followed by problems in interpreting the results of TI research. It reviews cognitive and reinforcement-based models of TI and considers research on neurobiological mechanisms of nonverbal inferences. It shows that with the single exception of honey bees, every species tested so far has been found to exhibit transitive-like behavior in an n-term series task. Whether this overwhelming incidence of success means that animals truly make inferences, however, has been a matter of a considerable debate that continues to this day. The author concludes that current experimental evidence does not strongly support either cognitive models or reinforcement-based models of TI.

Keywords: transitive inference; deductive reasoning; nonhuman animals; associative models

Article.  12344 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience

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