Deduction is the ability to draw necessary conclusions from previous knowledge. Here we propose a novel approach to understanding the neural basis of deduction, which exploits fine-grained inter-participant variability in such tasks. Participants solved deductive problems and were grouped by the behavioral strategies employed, i.e., whether they were sensitive to the logical form of syllogistic premises, whether the problems were solved correctly, and whether heuristic strategies were employed. Differential profiles of neural activity can predict membership of the first two of these groups. The predictive power of activity profiles is distributed non-uniformly across the brain areas activated by deduction. Activation in left ventro-lateral frontal (BA47) and lateral occipital (BA19) cortices predicts whether logically valid solutions are sought. Activation of left inferior lateral frontal (BA44/45) and superior medial frontal (BA6/8) cortices predicts sensitivity to the logical structure of problems. No specific pattern of activation was associated with the use of a non-logical heuristic strategy. Not only do these findings corroborate the hypothesis that left BA47, BA44/45 and BA6/8 are critical for making syllogistic deductions, but they also imply that they have different functional roles as components of a dedicated network. We propose that BA44/45 and BA6/8 are involved in the extraction and representation of the formal structure of a problem, while BA47 is involved in the selection and application of relevant inferential rules. Finally, our findings suggest that deductive reasoning can be best described as a cascade of cognitive processes requiring the concerted operation of several, functionally distinct, brain areas.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cognitive Neuroscience