Language models show human-like content effects on reasoning

Abstract reasoning is a key ability for an intelligent system. Large language models achieve above-chance performance on abstract reasoning tasks, but exhibit many imperfections. However, human abstract reasoning is also imperfect, and depends on our knowledge and beliefs about the content of the reasoning problem. For example, humans reason much more reliably about logical rules that are grounded in everyday situations than arbitrary rules about abstract attributes. The training experiences of language models similarly endow them with prior expectations that reflect human knowledge and beliefs. We therefore hypothesized that language models would show human-like content effects on abstract reasoning problems. We explored this hypothesis across three logical reasoning tasks: natural language inference, judging the logical validity of syllogisms, and the Wason selection task (Wason, 1968). We find that state of the art large language models (with 7 or 70 billion parameters; Hoffman et al., 2022) reflect many of the same patterns observed in humans across these tasks -- like humans, models reason more effectively about believable situations than unrealistic or abstract ones. Our findings have implications for understanding both these cognitive effects, and the factors that contribute to language model performance.

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