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date: 27 February 2020

Development of Reasoning and Decision-Making

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

There are clear theoretical and practical implications associated with the way that people make inferences and decisions. In addition, there are a variety of very different developmental theories that attempt to model how the underlying competencies change over time. The starting point for these discussions is the well-documented tendency for people to make a combination of logical and nonlogical inferences and judgments. Logical inferences refer to conclusions that are logically valid, which are, theoretically at least, a product only of the syntactic structure of the components of the inference. Nonlogical inferences are inferences that reflect personal knowledge and/or individual biases, and that produce conclusions that are not necessarily valid. Scientific and mathematical disciplines rely on the use of logically valid inferences, and the existence of strong tendencies toward making nonlogical inferences has clear educational implications. The most common ways of understanding the interplay between these two forms of inference are general dual process frameworks, which postulate the coexistence of two systems of inference-making, a heuristic and an analytic system, which function very differently and can produce different responses to the same problem. The analytic system is generally considered to be responsible for the potential to make logically valid inferences. However, a variety of developmental theories provide different approaches to just how logical reasoning might develop. The key concepts for each theory are very different, and it is important to understand how these differences can be articulated, in the light of the key empirical results. Finally, each of these different approaches has very different educational implications.