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Distributed neural representations of logical arguments in school-age children


Mathieu RRomain , Booth JRJames R , Prado JJérôme . Human brain mapping. 2014 10 30; 36(3). 996-1009


Children’s understanding of linear-order (e.g., Dan is taller than Lisa, Lisa is taller than Jess) and set-inclusion (i.e., All tulips are flowers, All flowers are plants) relationships is critical for the acquisition of deductive reasoning, that is, the ability to reach logically valid conclusions from given premises. Behavioral and neuroimaging studies in adults suggest processing differences between these relations: While arguments that involve linear-orders may be preferentially associated with spatial processing, arguments that involve set-inclusions may be preferentially associated with verbal processing. In this study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate whether these processing differences appear during the period of elementary school in development. Consistent with previous studies in adults, we found that arguments that involve linear-order and set-inclusion relationships preferentially involve spatial and verbal brain mechanisms (respectively) in school-age children (9-14 year olds). Because this neural sensitivity was not related to age, it likely emerges before the period of elementary education. However, the period of elementary education might play an important role in shaping the neural processing of logical reasoning, as indicated by developmental changes in frontal and parietal regions that were dependent on the type of relation.