Philip N. Johnson-Laird

Princeton University

Primary Section: 52, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
Membership Type:
Emeritus (elected 2007)

Research Interests

My research concerns high-level cognitive processes, such as thinking and reasoning, which I study using both computational modeling and psychological experiments. The theory of thinking that I have developed postulates that it depends on the construction of mental models of possibilities. Inferences that call for only a single model of a possibility are reliably easier than those that call for models of multiple possibilities. Models tend to represent what is true, and, as a consequence, even the best reasoners succumb to systematic fallacies when falsity is at stake. Recent studies with my colleagues have applied this theory to reverse engineering, to the detection and explanation of inconsistencies, to the acquisition of concepts, and to causal reasoning. Other recent research derives from a theory of emotions developed in collaboration with Keith Oatley. With psychiatric colleagues (Francesco Mancini and Amelia Gangemi), I have proposed a theory of psychological illnesses, such as phobias, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder: they owe their origin to hyper emotional reactions rather than to faulty thinking. In studies corroborating this theory, we have discovered that individuals suffering from various neuroses reason better than control participants but only about matters pertaining to their illnesses.

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