Do ducks lay eggs? How people interpret generic assertions

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Description: Generics are statements that express generalizations, such as ‘ducks lay eggs’. Intuitively, such statements seem true. Even the universal form of such statements e.g., ‘all ducks lay eggs’ seems true, despite our knowing that the majority of ducks do not. We conducted an experiment to verify these intuitions, and found that people overwhelmingly judged generic assertions true. People also judged universally quantified assertions true, but to a lesser extent. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that generics express cognitively primitive generalizations, and so require fewer cognitive resources than do explicitly quantified assertions (Leslie, 2007). Hence when people encounter universally quantified assertions they treat them as generics in order to minimize cognitive effort.

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