Conditionals, Context, and the Suppression Effect

Fabrizio Cariani*, Lance J. Rips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Modus ponens is the argument from premises of the form If A, then B and A to the conclusion B (e.g., from If it rained, Alicia got wet and It rained to Alicia got wet). Nearly all participants agree that the modus ponens conclusion logically follows when the argument appears in this Basic form. However, adding a further premise (e.g., If she forgot her umbrella, Alicia got wet) can lower participants’ rate of agreement—an effect called suppression. We propose a theory of suppression that draws on contemporary ideas about conditional sentences in linguistics and philosophy. Semantically, the theory assumes that people interpret an indicative conditional as a context-sensitive strict conditional: true if and only if its consequent is true in each of a contextually determined set of situations in which its antecedent is true. Pragmatically, the theory claims that context changes in response to new assertions, including new conditional premises. Thus, the conclusion of a modus ponens argument may no longer be accepted in the changed context. Psychologically, the theory describes people as capable of reasoning about broad classes of possible situations, ordered by typicality, without having to reason about individual possible worlds. The theory accounts for the main suppression phenomena, and it generates some novel predictions that new experiments confirm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)540-589
Number of pages50
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2017


  • Common ground
  • Conditional sentences
  • Modality
  • Reasoning
  • Stalnakerian pragmatics
  • Strict conditional
  • Suppression effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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