Improving analytical reasoning and argument understanding: a quasi-experimental field study of argument visualization

Simon Cullen, Judith Fan, Eva van der Brugge, Adam Elga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The ability to analyze arguments is critical for higher-level reasoning, yet previous research suggests that standard university education provides only modest improvements in students’ analytical-reasoning abilities. What pedagogical approaches are most effective for cultivating these skills? We investigated the effectiveness of a 12-week undergraduate seminar in which students practiced a software-based technique for visualizing the logical structures implicit in argumentative texts. Seminar students met weekly to analyze excerpts from contemporary analytic philosophy papers, completed argument visualization problem sets, and received individualized feedback on a weekly basis. We found that seminar students improved substantially more on LSAT Logical Reasoning test forms than did control students (d = 0.71, 95% CI: [0.37, 1.04], p < 0.001), suggesting that learning how to visualize arguments in the seminar led to large generalized improvements in students’ analytical-reasoning skills. Moreover, blind scoring of final essays from seminar students and control students, drawn from a parallel lecture course, revealed large differences in favor of seminar students (d = 0.87, 95% CI: [0.26, 1.48], p = 0.005). Seminar students understood the arguments better, and their essays were more accurate and effectively structured. Taken together, these findings deepen our understanding of how visualizations support logical reasoning and provide a model for improving analytical-reasoning pedagogy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number21
Journalnpj Science of Learning
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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