Cedegao Zhang Humanities and Social Science
The Cognitive Processes Underlying Modal Reasoning
My research project investigates the cognitive processes underlying peoples modal reasoning. Modal reasoning concerns the possibility and probability of events. It is linguistically expressed by modal words such as certainly, probably, and might. As an example, if you see a person running on the street, you can reason about the scene and infer that he or she might be catching a bus. This kind of reasoning is prevalent in everyday life. Thus, modal reasoning is an interesting topic for cognitive scientists, and studying the use of modal words can reveal how people deal with certainty and uncertainty. My project will collect and analyze behavioral data about how people judge the acceptability of propositions modified by modal words. It contributes to two specific topics in cognitive science. (1) There is a long-standing debate about whether there are two distinct processes for inductive and deductive reasoning. Using modal reasoning as a case study, I aim to provide further support for the view that a single process can execute both types of reasoning. (2) A promising framework to understand and explain various aspects of human cognition is Bayesian modeling. An important insight from the framework is that people are likely to collect samples from mental simulations as the basis for performing good actions. I aim to show that people also employ mental sampling for modal reasoning, which would extend the Bayesian framework to another important domain.