Research Article: Contradictory Reasoning Network: An EEG and fMRI Study

Date Published: March 25, 2014

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Camillo Porcaro, Maria Teresa Medaglia, Ngoc Jade Thai, Stefano Seri, Pia Rotshtein, Franca Tecchio, Daniel Houser.


Contradiction is a cornerstone of human rationality, essential for everyday life and communication. We investigated electroencephalographic (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in separate recording sessions during contradictory judgments, using a logical structure based on categorical propositions of the Aristotelian Square of Opposition (ASoO). The use of ASoO propositions, while controlling for potential linguistic or semantic confounds, enabled us to observe the spatial temporal unfolding of this contradictory reasoning. The processing started with the inversion of the logical operators corresponding to right middle frontal gyrus (rMFG-BA11) activation, followed by identification of contradictory statement associated with in the right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG-BA47) activation. Right medial frontal gyrus (rMeFG, BA10) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC, BA32) contributed to the later stages of process. We observed a correlation between the delayed latency of rBA11 response and the reaction time delay during inductive vs. deductive reasoning. This supports the notion that rBA11 is crucial for manipulating the logical operators. Slower processing time and stronger brain responses for inductive logic suggested that examples are easier to process than general principles and are more likely to simplify communication.

Partial Text

The ability to reason, crucial for effective social interactions and for the solution of common practical problems, is among the most advanced human intellectual abilities. Contradiction, as a sub-class of reasoning process is one of the cornerstones of human rational reasoning and is part of everyday life and communication. In debates or conversations, we usually examine a statement and evaluate the validity of its content before agreeing with or arguing against what is being said. In western culture, the elements normally used in a conversation derive from a framework based on the Aristotelian Square of Opposition (ASoO). Formally, the ASoO is based on categorical statements, either universal statements related to the totality, expressed by the logical operator (quantifier) All or particular statements related to a small subset of it, expressed by logical operator Some. When contradicting a generic statement, we tend to search for counter examples. For instance, to refute the statement ‘All swans are white’, we might argue that ‘The Australian swan is black’. In logic, the first statement (i.e. ‘All…’) is contradicted by the formulation ‘Some swans are black’ (i.e. ‘Some…’). Categorical propositions may be used in various logical relationships; in particular a premise-conclusion pair can be contradictory or non-contradictory [1]. In the ASoO the contradiction between a first categorical proposition (premise) with a second categorical proposition (conclusion) can be achieved by inverting the logical operators All with Some and the attribute, i.e. ‘white’ with ‘black’ in the example above. Two main types of logical reasoning can be distinguished: inductive when we derive a rule based on a series of observations, and deductive when we formulate an example based on a rule. When the premise is a particular example (‘Some’) and the conclusion is a universal rule (‘All’), their relation is assessed using inductive reasoning. In contrast deductive reasoning is needed to assess the reverse relation: how a universal rule (‘All’) applies to a particular example (‘Some’).

Going beyond our previous study using the Aristotelian Square of Oppositions [18], here we delineated the spatial temporal envelope of two processes that are keys to reasoning thinking: logical operators of deductive and inductive inferences and the detection of contradictions. We found that inductive (SA: Some-All ) reasoning was more difficult than deductive (AS: All-Some) reasoning and it was associated with increase responses of the right superior and medial prefrontal cortex (BA 8, 10, 32) and the inferior parietal (BA 40), in the fMRI. The EEG revealed more refined spatial-temporal properties of the reasoning processed. Here 0.8 s after the onset of the conclusion sentence the right MFG (BA 11) showed a different activity depending on the type of reasoning made. Interestingly the timing of right MFG (BA 11) peak predicted participants’ reaction time delay in inductive vs. deductive reasoning. The responses of the MeFG (BA 10) that were seen in the fMRI were observed later at 1.4 s. Participants found it equally easy to detect contradictory as well as non-contradictory sentences, however both the fMRI and EEG revealed that responses of the right MFG (BA 47) arising at 1.2 s after the onset of the conclusion sentence showed stronger responses to the contradictory than to non-contradictory sentences. Our data highlighted that specific spatial-temporal network properties subtend deduction/induction and identification of contradiction. We next discuss in more details each of the observed effects and potential reasons of some apparent inconsistencies between the fMRI and EEG data.