An investigation of children's abilities to reason with conditional statements



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Purpose. This study was an attempt to determine the developmental results of four through six grade children's awareness of conditional statements. The study was designed to examine upper elemantary school age children's abilities to recognize and accept valid and invalid conclusions in conditional arguments derived from Inhelder's and Piaget's binary combinations of propositions representing the following 'formal operations': Affirming the antecedent, denying the antecedent, affirming the consequent, and denying the consequent. Procedures. Children in grades four through six at Lucy Webb Elementary School, Greenville, Mississippi, were asked to evaluate a statement offered as a conclusion in 32 conditional arguments with four arguments representing each of eight basic types. Each argument contained a conditional statement considered as having: (1) concrete-familiar statement content and (2) affirmatively worded antecedent and consequent statements. The subjects were a random sample of 152 children. The data collected on each subject included a conditional statements awareness score for each of eight basic argument patterns and the subjects' age, grade level, and length of time in the school system. The data was analyzed according to six null hypotheses tested at the .05 level of significance. Discriminant analysis was used to classify subjects over a primordial to formal reasoning continuum to determine if there were any significant differences among the reasoning scores of children over age and/or grade level. Findings. Conditional reasoning scores over grade levels were found to be significantly different and sequential over a primordial to formal reasoning continuum. Differences associated with age levels were not significant. Implication was found to develop earlier than non-implication over grade levels. There was no indication that a recognition and/or acceptance of either of the rules of modus ponendo ponens and modus tollendo tollens develop earlier than the other. Conclusions. There seem to be supportive evidence for stating that the development of children's conditional reasoning abilities may be a result of educational development rather than an ability that develops solely with age. Although four through six grade children have developed some awareness of conditional statements, their abilities to recognize and accept valid and invalid conclusions in conditional arguments cannot be taken for granted. Implications. From a practical as well as educational point of view, children have gained some awareness of conditional statements as a result of everyday learning experiences. Therefore, children in grades four through six should be presented with conditional statements in everyday situations as often as possible. Recommendations. Attempts should be made to: (1) further investigate the nature of the developmental results of children's abilities to reason with conditional statements, (2) examine factors affecting children's abilities to reason with affirmatively worded conditional statements, and (3) determine whether or not children's awareness of conditional statements may be improved through educational intervention.



Logic, Conditionals (Logic), Logic--Study and teaching (Elementary)