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QUT Digital Repository:

Watters, James J. and English, Lyn D. (1995) Children's application of simultaneous

and successive processing in inductive and deductive reasoning problems: implications
for developing scientific reasoning skills. Journal of Research in Science Teaching,
32(7). pp. 699-714.

Copyright 1995 John Wiley & Sons

Children's application of simultaneous and successive processing in inductive and

deductive reasoning problems: implications for developing scientific reasoning skills
James J. Watters and Lyn D. English
Centre for Mathematics and Science Education
Queensland University of Technology
Kelvin Grove, Australia.

Published as:
Watters, J. J. & English, L. S. (1995). Children's application of simultaneous and
successive processing in inductive and deductive reasoning problems: Implications
for developing scientific reasoning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(7),

Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

The research reported in this paper was undertaken to obtain a better understanding of
problem solving and scientific reasoning in 10-year-old children. The study involved
measuring children's competence at syllogistic reasoning and in solving a series of
problems requiring inductive reasoning. Children were also categorized on the basis of
levels of simultaneous and successive synthesis. Simultaneous and successive synthesis
represent two dimensions of information processing identified by Luria in a program of
neuro-psychological research. Simultaneous synthesis involves integration of information
in a holistic or spatial fashion whereas successive synthesis involves processing
information sequentially with temporal links between stimuli. Analysis of the data
generated in the study indicated that syllogistic reasoning and inductive reasoning were
significantly correlated with both simultaneous and successive synthesis. However, the
strongest correlation was found between simultaneous synthesis and inductive reasoning.
These findings provide a basis for understanding the roles of spatial and verbal-logical
ability as defined by Luria's neuropsychological theory in scientific problem solving. The
results also highlight the need for teachers to provide experiences which are compatible
with individual students' information processing styles.

Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

The purpose of this paper is to report on a study of individual differences in reasoning
skills of 10-year-old children. In particular, the research has drawn upon the Luria model
of information processing (1973) and examines children's achievement in two tasks which
purport to underlie formal scientific reasoning. The work seen in conjunction with that of
Clement (1994) provides clues to the use of imagery in scientific problem solving
The teaching of science is often justified on the grounds that children need to develop
the logical and critical thinking that epitomizes science (Harlen, 1985). The vast literature
on misconceptions and alternative frameworks indicates that children's knowledge is
frequently inconsistent with the "scientifically correct" version. Modern constructivist
theories imply that conceptual understanding in individual children is a personal goal
achieved through active involvement and problem solving in contexts relevant to the child
(Yager, 1991). Thus, if students can be given opportunities to think logically, reflect on
experiences and justify their reasoning then more effective learning may occur (Swartz &
Perkins, 1989). The successful implementation of a thinking-based science program is
predicated on a knowledge of the individuality of children's reasoning processes given that
individuals process information differently from each other (Siegler, 1988).
In the preamble to this paper we highlight the notion that individual differences need
to be considered in order to understand how children learn science. One area of individual
differences that has been explored over the years is the role of spatial ability in learning.
Several studies have shown that students with high ability in solving spatial problems
achieve well in science and mathematics (Siemonkowski & MacKnight, 1971). Baker and
Talley (1972, 1974) postulated that spatial visualization was a mediator in problem solving
in chemistry, in so far as the manipulation of three dimensional objects facilitated the
development of imagery analogs that assisted in the understanding of concepts. Others
have shown that students with high spatial ability have tended to perform better also in
chemistry, especially in tasks requiring problem solving and mental manipulation of two
dimensional objects or symbolic representations (Carter, Larussa & Bodner, 1987; Pribyl
& Bodner, 1987). Small and Morton (1983) found evidence that organic chemistry
students could benefit from a spatial visualization training program. A study by Pallrand
and Seeber (1984) showed that spatial abilities affected a student's decision to study
college physics and that these abilities improved in those students who did study physics.
Lord (1987) demonstrated that spatial ability is an advantage in biology laboratory
activities. Spatial skills would also be crucial in the interpretations of diagrams and
illustrations which are essential in effective scientific communication (Hill, 1988;
Symington, 1984). In the domain of mathematics many have argued that mathematical
reasoning is facilitated by the ability of the reasoner to interrelate spatial images and verbal
propositions (Battista, 1994; Bishop, 1989; Hermelin & O'Connor,1986; Krutetskii, 1976).
Spatial ability, however, is a nebulous construct mostly identified in psychometric
research as an outcome of a factor analysis of a battery of tasks and not deduced from an
established theory (Eliot, 1987; Lohman, Pellegrino, Alderton & Regian, 1987). Insights
into spatial ability and the individual characteristics that lead to the expression of spatial
ability can be gleaned from the neurophysiological theory attributed to Luria (1973).
Luria's model of information processing
Luria described three principal functional units or blocks, defined by the role they
assume in overall cognitive processing, as elements of cognitive function. The first unit is

Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

described as an arousal and attention unit, the second unit functions to gather, process and
store information and the third unit involves programming, regulation and verification of
information. Luria argued that the second functional orchestrates the conversion of
concrete experiences into abstract thinking. Luria hypothesized that both verbal and nonverbal information can be processed either simultaneously or successively. In
simultaneous synthesis each piece of information is immediately accessible in relation to
another. Successive synthesis involves the processing of information in a time dependent
sequential mode. Luria's original model has provided a framework for the development of
a model of information processing by Das and Varnhargen (1986). In Das's model
information is synthesized into simultaneous, quasi-spatial format or a temporally
organized format irrespective of the mode of information presentation to the sensory
receptor. The way information is processed depends on the individual, their level of
attention, the nature of the task, and interactions between these variables. In so far as
spatial ability is concerned, tasks traditionally associated with high spatial ability are facile
for those individuals who process information through structures involving simultaneous
Support for the Luria model of information processing comes mostly from the
laboratory of Das and colleagues at Alberta and consequently one operationalisation of the
model has been referred to as the Luria-Das model (Das, 1972; Das, Kirby, & Jarman,
1975, 1979; Das & Molloy, 1975; Das & Varnhagen, 1986; Kirby & Das, 1976, 1978;
Naglieri & Das, 1990; Naglieri, Das & Jarman, 1990). Other support for the general model
developed by Luria comes from the work of Green (1977), Ransley (1981), Walton,
(1983), Angus (1984), Crawford (1986) and Woodley (1993). Studies of children's writing
skills have also reinforced the applicability of the Luria model. For example, Harris and
Wachs (1986) have found that children high in successive processing produce fewer
sentence errors whereas those high in simultaneous processing appeared to form better
links between sentences and paragraphs. Performance on other tasks such as conservation,
transitive inference and class inclusion is better in children who exhibit simultaneous
rather than successive processing (Das & Verhargen, 1986). Wachs and Harris (1986)
have also shown that levels of simultaneous processing are high among university students
who are successful in mathematics. Thus, Luria's model provides a framework for
examining processes involved in scientific reasoning.
Inductive and deductive reasoning
In the context of this study formal reasoning is restricted to intellectual activity with
problems whose solutions are governed by a system of logic (Galotti, 1989). Two modes
of formal reasoning extensively studied include inductive and deductive tasks both of
which contribute to scientific processes (Chalmers, 1982). Through the inductive process
of reasoning, understanding is derived from consideration of observable characteristics.
One is able to generalize from facts acquired through observation.
Deductive reasoning is a broad term covering the encoding and combination of
statements using logical connectives, transitive inference or syllogistic reasoning and
propositional reasoning. Deductive reasoning involves the process of logically deriving
facts, outcomes or consequences, from ideas or theories based on the formal truth
relationships between premises without regard for the empirical or practical truth value of
the premises. Effective reasoning requires the ability to develop arguments and assess
their validity to generate and test hypotheses, to judge the plausibility of assertions, to

Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

identify possible courses of action, and to think through the consequences of choosing a
particular course (Nickerson, 1986).
Mayer and Revlin (1978) argued that traditional syllogisms are a valid means of
probing rational thought processes because they provide a standardized format for
analyzing decision-making. Nevertheless, the role of pure logic in scientific reasoning, as
defined by competence in traditional syllogisms, has been brought into question (Cheng,
Holyoak, Nisbett & Oliver, 1986; OBrien, 1987). However, from an historical and
philosophical perspective, syllogistic reasoning is an important component of scientific
reasoning and remains a field of active research (Adams, 1984; Galotti & Komatsu, 1989).
De Soto, London and Handel (1965) obtained evidence that adults solve linear
syllogisms involving ordering relationships by constructing spatial images to represent
order in the premises. In a comprehensive model of syllogistic reasoning, Guyote and
Sternberg (1981) described four stages: (a) an encoding stage, (b) a combination stage, (c)
a comparison stage, and (d) a response stage. The encoding process involves the
construction of symbolic representations which may be image based ("picture in the
mind") or an abstract diagram. The combination stage requires the application of a set of
inferential rules implemented sequentially.
At a more general level, Goldman (1986) identified two main competing theories in
defining the role of cognition in deductive reasoning: the mental logic theory and the
mental models theory. The mental logic theory assumes that individuals possess schemata
for holding and implementing sets of rules that carry out mental derivations. The main
support for this theory comes from Rips (1983) through computer simulations. JohnsonLairds (1983) implementation of the mental models theory argues that people interpret
premises as representations constructed from "tokens" arranged in a particular structure
rather than verbal associations. Subjects make associations and construct imagistic
representations based on developing or identifying analogies between the elements of the
premise (Johnson-Laird & Byrne, 1991). Markovits (1993) has attempted to reconcile
Piagetian theories on the development of possibility and necessity in conditional reasoning
with the mental-models-information-processing theory by arguing that the generality of
logical reasoning varies with the degree of abstraction of the corresponding mental model.
The development of inductive reasoning has been intensively researched as it pertains
to scientific reasoning. diSessa, (1983, 1993) has argued that scientific explanation begins
with the act of observation. Initially, every act of seeing isolated or discrete phenomena
leads to consideration, reflection and combination. These observations are sorted with the
viewer seeking more general abstractions and theories. However, even the highest level is
phenomenological. diSessa (1983) argues that scientific understanding is predicated by
phenomenological primitives which serve as elements of analysis or models, that partly
explain and provide link between the memory of an event and understanding of more
complex or formal ideas. These primitives, which also appear to be mental representations
of events or entities, provide the basis for analogical reasoning. Analogical reasoning,
however, is an inductive process in which the thinker transfers or generalizes from the
stored model representation to explain other phenomena (DeJong, 1989; D. Gentner & D.
R. Gentner, 1983; Gentner, 1989; Halford, 1992). The construction of an analogy can
demand a high information processing load. Halford (1992) has shown that processes
involving transitive inference and class inclusion require a higher processing load than
young children can generally cope with.

Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

The relationship between inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning and analogical

reasoning has been described by Michalski (1989). The process of recognizing the
existence of an analogy between stored knowledge and an event is intrinsically inductive;
whereas according to Michalski, the process of deriving inferences about the analogue
using analogical mapping is deductive. That is, the construction of the analogy which
unifies the base and target systems is an inductive process but the use of the analogy is a
deductive exercise.
The bimodality of cognitive processing was also evident in the results of Galotti and
Kamatsu's study (1989). They explained the observed differences in solution strategies
between 12 year-old children and children of 14 years and older as due to age-dependent
differences in preferred strategies. Most models of deductive reasoning involve either a
spatial or analytical process. For example, the reasoner may generate a representation of
the premises which is isomorphic to Euler diagrams (Erickson, 1978) or similar spatial
constructions (DeSoto et al. 1965; Guyote & Sternberg, 1981). Alternatively, an
algorithmic or rule based model may be preferred by others (Braine & Rumain, 1983;
Johnson-Laird, Byrne & Tabossi, 1989; Rips, 1983). Sternberg (1980) observed the
coexistence of both processes and postulated a mixed model involving spatial and
analytical components.
This review has focussed on two dimensions of teaching science namely, the individuality
of the learner and the nature or demands of the task confronting the learner. We have
attempted to argue that information is processed simultaneously (spatially) and/or
successively (involving rules) and that scientific reasoning involves both inductive and
deductive reasoning. Our proposition is that individuals adopt strategies in solving
problems that utilize their particular strengths or modes of information processing. The
significance of this study is that we provide evidence for individual differences in
children's strategies for solving reasoning tasks based on a model of cognition derived
from brain research. Our research provides a base for developing and implementing a
curriculum that takes into account individual differences. Catering for individual
differences needs to involve the provision of multi-modal experiences including, for
example the use of diagrams (Larkin & Simon, 1987; Lowe, 1986; Mayer & Gallini,
1990), heuristics (de Bono, 1976), or collaborative grouping through which individuals can
construct their own unique representations of knowledge (Slavin, 1991). The study also
provides the basis for further research on the question whether a particular mode of
information processing is an advantage in scientific reasoning and the extent to which the
teaching of science fails to exploit these more appropriate modes.
Specifically, the aim of the present study was to investigate children's reasoning
abilities in solving problems of induction and deduction. The relationship between these
abilities and children's modes of information processing or cognitive style, as defined by
the Luria model, was explored by examining the correlation between children's
performance on these problems and factor scores indicative of levels of simultaneous and
successive processing.

Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

One hundred and eighty two students (age: M = 10.2, SD = 0.6) from 14 elementary
public schools in the metropolitan area of Brisbane, Australia, participated in this study.
The subjects were predominantly middle class and were randomly selected from a total
population of over six hundred children. All the children were from homes where English
was the first language. There were approximately equal numbers of males and females in
the population. Not all subjects were able to complete every test due to absences and time
Instruments and procedures
Subjects were administered a test battery that measures simultaneous and successive
processing and selective attention. The tests were developed by Fitzgerald (1971) and
subsequently used by his students, Green (1977), Angus (1984) and Crawford (1986),
Woodley (1993) and others (Hunt & Randhawa, 1983). The tests include: Matrix Test A
and Matrix Test B which measure simultaneous processing; Number Span Test, Word
String Test and a Letter Span Test which measure successive processing. Raven's
Coloured Progressive Matrices (Raven, Court & Raven, 1986), which was shown by Das
(1972) to load factorially mostly on simultaneous processing in normal Canadian children,
completed the battery.
Administration and scoring were as follows. The letter span, word span and number
span tests comprized 15 lists of randomly arranged lists of letters, words and numbers. No
element was repeated in each list and the length varied from three to seven elements. List
size was also randomly arranged. The elements of each list were dictated with a pause of
one second between each. The subjects were required to memorize each list and to write
the list in the presented sequence on an answer sheet. Credit for each response was given
where the subject reported elements in the correct sequence and not for the absolute
number recalled. The matrix tests involved students memorizing a pattern arranged within
a nine dot matrix and presented on a large cardboard poster held by the researcher at the
front of the group. Subjects were given eight seconds to view the pattern and then
requested to draw the pattern from memory within a blank dot matrix on an answer sheet.
In Matrix B, the subjects were required to rotate mentally the image through 180 degrees
and present that rotated image as their answer.
The tests to establish the simultaneous and successive factor scores were group
administered in two sessions on different days. Groups comprising a maximum of fifteen
children were tested in two sessions of no longer than forty minutes on each alternate day.
The Raven's CPM was administered individually to children in a separate room. The order
of administration of tests was counterbalanced.
Subjects were also presented with two tasks which measure reasoning. Both of these
tasks were structured to be content free with no relationship to previous practical
knowledge. Deductive reasoning ability was assessed with a set of 10 syllogisms
(Appendix 1). Five of these syllogisms involved premises based on fantasy or makebelieve animals called Bongos and Wobbles whereas the other five syllogisms contained
premises which involved real entities. When presented with the fantasy syllogisms, the
subjects were encouraged to believe that they were visitors to a distant planet inhabited by
these creatures that behaved in strange ways. Both sets of syllogisms were constructed
with premises which were contrary to real-life experience or counterfactual and all were

Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

positive, universal syllogisms. The order of presentation was counterbalanced so that
approximately half of the subjects received the make-believe syllogisms first. The
syllogisms were also presented verbally to individual children in the same session as
Raven's CPM.
A "yes" or "no" response to a syllogism was followed up with a probing question,
"Why". If children gave vague justifications such as, "Because it is a Bongo", the
researcher probed further with questions like, "and what do you know about Bongos?".
Explanations were recorded by video tape and examined by the researcher and a research
assistant. A response which indicated that the child was able to justify the correct answer
on the basis of information given in the premise was considered to represent an example of
logical deductive reasoning and was awarded one point. Alternative answers which
repeated the syllogism or where the child persistently said, "Because it is a Bongo" were
coded as non-logical and scored zero points. Consequently, two scales for deductive
reasoning were constructed with one measuring reasoning involving fantasy-based
premises and the other with real-life premises. The researcher and research assistant
independently coded the responses. For most responses, intercoder agreement was high
(98%). Agreement was reached on the remaining cases after discussion.
The second reasoning task involved a 15 item test based on the ESS Creature Cards
Activity (Elementary Science Study, 1974). The subjects were required to undertake an
identification and an application task as part of this activity. The creature card activity, as
originally used in the ESS program, involved presenting to the subject a set of between
five and seven drawings which were described as all being some imaginary creature such
as a florgiedorfle. A further set of drawings was presented with a label indicating that
none of those particular drawings was a florgiedorfle. Finally, a third set of drawings was
presented with a label requesting the subject to identify which of this set of drawings was a
In our study, each subject received a booklet containing, on a separate page, the set of
drawings representing each imaginary creature and the set of drawings representing nonexamples. The items were graded in difficulty according to the number of attributes
(which ranged from one to three) needed to define membership. A booklet of answer
sheets was provided in which the third set of mixed creatures and non-creatures was
drawn. The subjects were required to circle letters representing the correct responses and
were awarded one point for every correct choice and were deducted one point for every
incorrectly identified case. No penalty was given for failing to identify an example. A
total score of 45 on the inductive logic scale was possible. As an addition to the activity,
children were required to apply their understanding of the task by drawing a creature in the
answer booklet consistent with the label that described the example. They were instructed
not to copy directly any of the given examples. One point was awarded only if the child's
drawing of a creature contained all the attributes that were necessary to define membership
of that particular group of fictitious creatures (CREATURE design variable). The Creature
Card Activity was administered at the same time as the group tests but after initial verbal
instructions and a worked sample problem, the children were allowed to progress at their
own pace with no time limit set for completion of the task.
Lawson et al. (1991) used some of these problems in a study of the relationship
between hypothetico-deductive reasoning and concept acquisition in high school students.
In their study they argued that successful identification of class membership of a particular

Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

imaginary creature depended upon a sequence of reasoning best described as hypotheticaldeductive. However, they did acknowledge the more parsimonious possibility that success
on the test could be due to an inductive reasoning process in which the subject "generates
an idea" or representation of a creature and then seeks to match the examples of possible
creatures with the representation. We are more comfortable with this latter interpretation
of the task for 10-year old children and consequently have used the task as a probe of
inductive reasoning.
The two tasks used to probe reasoning have several features that need to be
emphasized. Firstly, both the syllogisms and the ESS Creature Cards are problems in
which the subject should find personal experience a hindrance to reasoning. Secondly, the
syllogisms present a situation in which a generalization is verbally made and a specific
conclusion is sought whereas the ESS Creature Card task involves the presentation of a
phenomenon from which the subject must firstly generalize. Thirdly, the modality of
presentation is different for both, with the syllogisms being presented verbally by an adult
interviewer while the ESS Creature Card is presented in booklet form in a more relaxed,
self-paced situation as described in more detail below.
Presentation of the results focuses on the three main sets of variables: deductive syllogistic
reasoning, inductive reasoning on the creature card task and information processing
synthesis styles based on the Luria model, and the correlations between these variables.
Syllogistic reasoning
A clear feature that emerged from this study is the difference in responses to the two
types of syllogisms (Table 1). Columns 2 and 3 of Table 1 list the percentage of subjects
who were able to logically reason on the number of items given in column 1. For example,
with the fantasy-based syllogisms, almost 60 percent of children were able to justify
successfully their reasoning on logical grounds for all five syllogisms with only nine
percent being unable to reason logically on any of the examples. In contrast, 36 percent of
children were able to justify their responses on all five of the real-life syllogisms but 42 per
cent were unable to respond correctly to any of these examples. There was no significant
effect attributed to the order of presentation of the syllogisms.
Insert Table 1 about here
The children performed significantly better on the fantasy syllogisms (M = 3.88, SD =
1.7) than on the real-life syllogisms (M = 2.42, SD = 2.3), t(111) = 7.16, p < .001. Girls
(M = 4.32, SD = 1.33) were more successful on the fantasy based syllogisms than boys (M
= 3.49, SD = 1.93), F(1, 110) = 6.85, p = .01 but no significant gender difference was
observed for the real-life syllogisms.
Inductive reasoning
The maximum score possible on the Creature Card task was 45. The mean score for
the 137 subjects who completed this task was 30.45 (SD = 13.08) (Cronbach = .86). A
mean score of 8.58 (SD = 3.73) out of 15 was found for the task of constructing their own
creature (Creature Design Variable). The girls (M = 9.4, n = 67) scored significantly better
on this task than the boys (M = 7.8, n = 70), F(1,135) = 6.2, p < .02). The performance of
the whole group on the Creature Cards test and Creature Design Variable was significantly

Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

correlated (r = 0.80 N = 137, p < .001)
Luria model
The scores on the six tests (letter span, number span, word span, matrix A, matrix B
and Raven's CPM) were subjected to a principal axis common factor analysis. The
resulting factor solution was subjected to a varimax rotation with Kaiser normalization and
standardized factor scores calculated for each subject using the SPSSPC statistical
The varimax rotated factor analysis of the six tests is shown in Table 2 for factors
with eigenvalues > 1.
Insert Table 2 about here
The two factors, simultaneous and successive synthesis, predicted from the Luria
model are clearly identified and account for over 60 percent of the variance in the data.
The number span test is the test most dependent on successive processing and the matrix B
test is a good measure of simultaneous processing. These results are consistent with those
found by Angus (1984).
Relationships between Luria variables and reasoning abilities
The data reveal significant correlations between the Luria variables of simultaneous
and successive synthesis and the measures of deductive and inductive reasoning. The
Pearson correlations for these variables are given in Table 3.
Insert Table 3 about here
Discussion of Results
In this study the most striking observation is the difference in the ability of subjects to
solve syllogisms presented in a fantasy or make-believe context and those presented in a
real-life situation involving counterfactual premises. For example, children were more
successful on the first type of syllogism below than on the second.

All bongos play basketball,

animals that play basketball are slow,
Wally is a Bongo,
Is Wally slow?


All dogs drink milk,

Animals that drink milk meow,
Do dogs meow?

Both these syllogisms contain premises that are contrary to the experience and
expectations that one would assume these children hold. However, it would appear that

Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

children are prepared to believe that fantasy creatures can possess attributes which are
inconsistent with experience more so than real-life creatures or situations. If the first step
in solving syllogisms is the formation of a mental representation of the premises, possibly
involving imagery, the absence of a representation for a Bongo or Wobble facilitates the
construction of a schema that accurately reflects the content of the premises. In contrast,
the subject already possesses a stable schema for a man or dog which does not include
information that dogs drink milk.
Clearly, real-life knowledge influences the strength or extent of the inferential rules
that are required to combine the symbolic representations of the premises. If low in
successive synthesis, the subject cannot sequentially retrieve the necessary rules and is
required to develop relationships by an analysis of the current situation. Thus, real-life
knowledge does not interfere with the combination process involving the symbolic
representations in working memory.
We now turn to a discussion of the inductive reasoning task. The solution to this task
would require the subject to scan the prototypical creatures, to generate a representation of
an exemplary member of the class and then to scan the non-members seeking attributes
which would eliminate particular cases from class membership. Because these are fantasy
creatures, the subject has no knowledge base to activate and draw upon and so is
dependent entirely on the perceptual cues and a novel solution strategy. The strong
correlation between the identification of the features of a class member and the ability to
apply this representation by creating and drawing their own creature with all the necessary
attributes reinforces the contention that the subjects generated a spatial image or schemata
which is holistically structured. The correlation between success at the Creature Card
Task and the Luria Simultaneous synthesis factor implies a neuropsychological mechanism
for the generation of this schemata.
In this study, anecdotal information shared by teachers and parents of the subjects
confirmed one striking feature. Those children who were relatively balanced in their levels
of simultaneous and successive processing were seen to be well-adjusted, high achieving
students, often with a strong interest and ability in mathematics and science. These
children, it would appear, are able to facilitate problem solving through application of both
modes of information processing. Of particular interest, were the reports on children who
were imbalanced in their levels of simultaneous and successive processing especially those
cases where the simultaneous was high and the successive low. This category of child was
frequently described as an underachiever who often displayed extraordinary insight or
persistence with problems of a scientific nature. There are implications here both for an
understanding of the relevance of the Luria model and for the significance of inductive and
deductive problem solving tasks of the type used in this work.
The aim of this study was to document individual differences in children's
performance on reasoning tasks associated with scientific reasoning. Individual
differences in cognition were defined in terms of the Luria model of simultaneous and
successive information processing. The findings suggest that those children with higher
levels of simultaneous processing are more successful in both deductive and inductive
reasoning and hence in general scientific reasoning. However, the results do not exclude a
strategy or mode of problem solving in which successive synthesis is applied.


Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

As Lawson et al. (1991) have argued, learning in science depends on an efficient level
of reasoning in the learner rather than the possession of an extensive declarative
knowledge. Children's knowledge of scientific concepts develops through observation of
every day phenomena which they presumably encode as simple mental representations.
The declarative knowledge base of young children is thus very much at the perceptual
level. However, Clement (1994) argues that even scientists who are reasoning in an
unfamiliar domain reason "directly or by analogy from examples for which the subject
could generate a clear imagistic solution" and similarly, novices in the area of physics
construct "qualitative representations of problems before attempting any quantitative
analysis" (White & Frederiksen, 1986). Representation of more abstract concepts as the
learner's level of expertise increases may involve a greater demand for combination of
representations and access to rules or heuristics. Ultimately, effective understanding
involves the establishment of a schematized abstraction of experiences involving a rich
network of connections between concepts and incorporating access to problem solving
strategies. This is identified in mathematics education as relational understanding. If one
applies the arguments of Battista (1994) based on research in mathematics education to
science education, relational understanding of science concepts involves the facility to
mentally manipulate and perform operations with mental models. The psychometric model
stemming from the research of Luria provides a framework for exploring these processes
in individual children.
In addition, the Luria model implies the need for certain instructional strategies. If
learners construct meaning through the generation of mental representations facilitated by
a simultaneous mode of information processing then information needs to be presented in a
way that is harmonious with this process. For children, the implication is that novel
experiences involving scientific phenomena need to be presented in a spatial form making
use of analogy with potentially existing representations. Improvement in instruction
should occur when teachers begin to focus on problem solving in learning environments
that encourage individual exploration and construction of models. Instruction also needs
to be tailored to meet the needs of exceptional children who may be more reliant on one or
other of the mode of information processing discussed in this paper.
Bechtol and Sorenson (1993) have argued that teachers should taken into account the
learning styles of children. How this can be achieved is problematic. The existing
research on learning styles (R Dunn & K Dunn, 1975; Guild & Garger, 1985; McCarthy,
1990; Witkin, Moore, Goodenough & Cox, 1977) is not convincingly grounded in any
satisfactory theory of cognition. Bechtol and Sorenson (1993) add support here:
many researchers have achieved amazing success with groups of underachieving
and problem children using their own style models and methods, but usually fail
to convince their peers of the merit of their programs. Some experts accept style
as a learning variable only cautiously. Others label it a fad or frill. Maybe we
don't know enough about styles and related brain research to have widespread
agreement on how to use style - learning or teaching in the classroom. (pp. 204 205).
Holistic learning has been advocated in science to encourage engagement in and the
construction of personal understanding of concepts for all children (Samples & Hammond,
1985). However, to effectively implement of strategies the teacher needs to be aware of


Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

the relationship between the underlying cognitive characteristics of children and the
demands of the learning science.


Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning


Table 1
Frequency of Children's correct performances on the two types of syllogisms
Total number of items

Percent correct if Fantasy


Percent correct if Real-Life





Note N =112

Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning


Table 2
Varimax Rotated Factor Matrix of Tests

Successive Factor

Simultaneous Factor

Letter span
Number span
Word span
Matrix A
Matrix B
Raven's CPM



% Variance




Loadings have been multiplied by 100 and rounded to whole numbers.

N = 110


Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

Table 3
Correlations between successive and simultaneous factor scores and reasoning tasks

Successive Factor

Simultaneous Factor

Creature Card Task

(Inductive logic)*

p < .01

p < .001

Creature Design Task*

p < .001

p < .001

Fantasy syllogisms**

p <.005

p < .02

Real-life syllogisms**

p < .005

p < .01

Note * N = 136, **N = 110


Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning

Appendix 1
Syllogisms based on anthropomorphic fantasy with counter-factually related premises.
All Bongos have big eyes.
Animals with big eyes like the sun.
Wally is a Bongo.
Does Wally like the sun?
Every Wobble has black teeth.
Animals with black teeth drink water.
Dolly is a Wobble.
Does Dolly drink water?
All Wobbles are mountain climbers.
Mountain climbers have short arms.
Dolly is a Wobble.
Does Dolly have short arms?
All Bongos play basketball.
Animals that play basketball are very slow.
Wally is a Bongo.
Is Wally slow?
All Wobbles have dirty hands.
Animals with dirty hands are good writers.
Dolly is a Wobble.
Does Dolly write well.
Syllogisms based on real-life situations with counter-factually related syllogisms
All men are smart.
All smart things are small.
Are all men small?
All dogs drink milk.
Animals that drink milk meow.
Do dogs meow?
When it rains all the grass gets wet.
Wet grass dies.
Does the grass die when it rains?
Motor cars are always shiny.
Shiny objects are round.
Are motor cars round?
When there is light it is bright.
Bright areas are frightening.
Is it frightening when there is light?


Simultaneous and successive processing in scientific reasoning


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