Research Article: Aristotle Meets Zeno: Psychophysiological Evidence

Date Published: December 29, 2016

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Charalabos Papageorgiou, Xanthi Stachtea, Panos Papageorgiou, Antonio T. Alexandridis, Eleftheria Tsaltas, Elias Angelopoulos, Kewei Chen.


This study, a tribute to Aristotle’s 2400 years, used a juxtaposition of valid Aristotelian arguments to the paradoxes formulated by Zeno the Eleatic, in order to investigate the electrophysiological correlates of attentional and /or memory processing effects in the course of deductive reasoning. Participants undertook reasoning tasks based on visually presented arguments which were either (a) valid (Aristotelian) statements or (b) paradoxes. We compared brain activation patterns while participants maintained the premises / conclusions of either the valid statements or the paradoxes in working memory (WM). Event-related brain potentials (ERPs), specifically the P300 component of ERPs, were recorded during the WM phase, during which participants were required to draw a logical conclusion regarding the correctness of the valid syllogisms or the paradoxes. During the processing of paradoxes, results demonstrated a more positive event-related potential deflection (P300) across frontal regions, whereas processing of valid statements was associated with noticeable P300 amplitudes across parieto-occipital regions. These findings suggest that paradoxes mobilize frontal attention mechanisms, while valid deduction promotes parieto-occipital activity associated with attention and/or subsequent memory processing.

Partial Text

Reasoning ability is the vehicle of extrapolation based on the available information, even when is incomplete. Deductive reasoning allows the formulation of relationships between premises and potential conclusions and is therefore a hallmark of higher cognition. Nevertheless, the brain mechanisms underlying it remain obscure [1,2].

During paradox deduction, our results demonstrated a more positive event-related potential deflection (P300) across frontal regions, specifically at leads Fp1, Fpz, Fp2, AFz, F8, FC6. In contrast, valid deduction was associated with noticeable P300 amplitudes across parieto-occipital regions, in particular at leads P4, O1 and O2. The significance of the observed differences concerning P300 amplitudes can be better understood if both psychophysiological and neurobiological aspects of this ERP component are taken into consideration. The P3 component of the event-related potentials is consistently related to attention, decision making and memory updating and therefore provides a valuable tool for the investigation of these processes in the human brain. It represents two distinct though strongly interrelated subcomponents P3a and P3b [35,44].

Deduction is the ability to draw necessary conclusions from previous items of knowledge. In our study the two different types of argument, paradoxical and valid, engaged different information processing operations as reflected by the involvement of frontal / orbitofrontal brain regions in dealing with paradoxical arguments, and parietal-occipital brain regions in processing valid Aristotelian arguments. The obtained results suggest that the dissociations between these two forms of brain activation in the course of reasoning are attributable to the nature of the deductive argument at hand. Paradoxical arguments implicate P3a, which originates from stimulus-driven frontal attention mechanisms during task processing. Valid arguments are associated with the P3b waveform, which originates from parietal and occipital activity and is related to attention. These comparisons elucidate similarities and differences between the neural correlates of deductive syllogistic and paradoxical reasoning. Our aim was to put forward these specific points and, in so doing, to stimulate further research into the psychophysiological basis of reasoning in general.