Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Inductive Inference

Inferences are made when a person (or machine) goes beyond available evidence to form a conclusion (Johnson-Laird, 1993). An inductive inference is one which is likely to be true because of the state of the world. Unlike deductive inferences, inductive inferences do yield consclusions that increase the semantic information over and above that found in the initial premises.

However, in the case of inductive inferences, we cannot be sure that our conclusion is a logical result of the premises, but we may be able to assign a likelihood to each conclusion.

Similar to deductive inference, induction can be broken down into three stages. The first stage is to understand the observation or stated information. The second is to form a hypothesis that attempts to describe the above information in relation to t person's general knowledge. The resulting conclusion goes beyond initial information by incorporating one's general knowledge in the result. The third step is to evaluate the validity of the conclusion that was reached.

Interstingly, a child learning a human language can be viewed as performing a form of unconscious inductive inference, a process of inference that has to be constrained in some fashion because the inference is underdetermined by the information given (Pinker, 1979; Wexler & Culicover, 1980).


  1. Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1993). Human and machine thinking. Hillsdale, NJ : Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  2. Pinker, S. (1979). Formal models of language learning. Cognition, 7, 217-283.
  3. Wexler, K., & Culicover, P. W. (1980). Formal principles of language acquisition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

(Revised March 2010)