Higher order strategic gist reasoning in adolescence

Sandra B. Chapman, Jacquelyn F. Gamino, Raksha Anand Mudar

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Adolescents in the United States are falling behind those of other developed countries in advanced reasoning skills. In this chapter, we posit that the prevailing emphasis on rote fact learning, rather than on reasoned thinking, prevents our students from achieving a competitive level of cognitive potential. We put forth a theoretical and empirical case for focusing on the neglected fourth R of education, Reasoning. In particular, we focus on gist reasoning, defined as the ability to derive global meaning from explicit details, entailing frontally mediated, top-down cognitive control processes. Based on memory for gist, gist reasoning operates independently from and is superior to rote fact-based learning and memory. The independence of gist reasoning from fact learning is documented in studies of youth with brain injury and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. This pattern is also documented in typically developing adolescents in whom the capacity to recall facts does not correspond with a capacity to engage in gist reasoning. We present evidence that gist reasoning training is optimal during adolescence, given that the brain is undergoing significant maturational changes. Evidence for enhancing adolescent gist reasoning across a variety of populations, including typically developing adolescents, is demonstrated by a novel gist reasoning training program. Training strategic gist reasoning has direct applications to educational practice, with the ultimate goal of achieving advanced levels of critical thinking. In view of recent economic forecasts, every year we fail to teach advanced reasoning to youth, we fail to invest in the future of our human cognitive capital.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe adolescent brain: Learning, reasoning, and decision making
EditorsValerie F. Reyna, Sandra B. Chapman, Michael R. Dougherty, Jere Confrey
PublisherAmerican Psychological Association
ISBN (Print)1-4338-1070-0, 978-1-4338-1070-1
StatePublished - 2012


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