The Rationale™ software is informed by many years of research into reasoning skills conducted at the University of Melbourne and elsewhere.




Rationale™ Development

Austhink has been conducting research and development in argument mapping software, supported in part by a "Commercial Ready" R&D grant from AusIndustry.



Educating Reason

This project, supported by the University of Melbourne and the Australian Research Council, was aimed at developing a method of teaching basic reasoning and critical thinking skills that is (a) demonstrably effective, and (b) affordable.

The project was based on two empirical conjectures.

  • Reasoning and critical thinking skills improve as the result of extensive deliberate practice. High levels of skill can be attained through, and only through, such practice. In other words, what Ericsson et al espouse for expertise in general holds for reasoning and critical thinking skills in particular.
  • Software-supported argument mapping is a particularly effective form of practice.

These conjectures combine to form the essence of what we now call the LAMP approach to improving reasoning and critical thinking skills. The LAMP says that the best way to improve these skills is "Lots of Argument Mapping Practice".

The Educating Reason project consisted of (a) developing and implementing a LAMP-based method, and (b) evaluating the efficacy of that method. Evaluation was conducted by extensive pre-, post-, and follow-up-testing of various student cohorts over 6 years.

  1. van Gelder, T. J., Bissett, M., & Cumming, G. (2004). Cultivating Expertise in Informal Reasoning. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 58, 142-152.
  2. van Gelder, T.J. (2005) Teaching Critical Thinking: Some Lessons from Cognitive Science. College Teaching 45, 1-6
  3. van Gelder, T. J. (2002). Enhancing Deliberation Through Computer-Supported Argument Visualization (pdf file). In P. Kirschner & S. Buckingham Shum & C. Carr (Eds.), Visualizing Argumentation: Software Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making (pp. 97-115). London: Springer-Verlag.
  4. For more publications see the Reason! Project page.


Critical Thinking in the Brain

Research conducted in collaboration with Gary Egan of the Howard Florey Institute has been studying critical thinking processes in the brain using FMRI techniques. We were investigating questions such as

  • which brain regions are especially implicated in critical thinking activities?
  • do the substantial skill gains found when using the LAMP method result in detectable changes in brain activity?
  • do such changes support the theory that the skill gains are due in part to trainee's enhanced capacity to apply visual mental schemas for argument structures - in other words, to do argument mapping in their heads?
  1. manuscripts under development


Meta-Analytic Review of Critical Thinking Gains

To determine how effective the LAMP method really is we need to know by how much the participating students *would* have improved even if not exposed to the method. In other words, we need to know: how much do university students typically gain in critical thinking skills? This question is being addressed in a meta-analytic review of the empirical research literature on critical thinking skill gains at university. The primary researcher on this project is Claudia Alvarez, working on a Masters degree under supervision by Tim van Gelder and Geoff Cumming. Ms. Alvarez' thesis investigates the widespread assumption that the study of philosophy enhances critical thinking skills. The specific empirical questions addressed in the meta-analytic review are:

  1. To what extent to university students, in general, improve in CT skills over one semester?
  2. To what extent to students studying philosophy improve? (Here, philosophy is taken to be "Anglo-American analytic" philosophy.)
  3. To what extent to students being taught Critical Thinking improve?
  4. To what extent to students being taught Critical Thinking via the LAMP method improve?
  1. manuscripts under development


Linked/Convergent Distinction

How do you tell whether two claims are working together as part of the same argument, or rather belong to two quite separate arguments? This is the linked/convergent distinction. It is a central issue in informal logic, and yet there is a great deal of confusion and disputation about it. The Rationale™ software builds in a linked-convergent distinction, yet there appear to be arguments that are not properly handled as either linked or as convergent structures. Ashley Barnett, under the supervision of Tim van Gelder and Neil Thomason, has recently completed an honours thesis on this topic and is doing follow-up research.

  1. manuscripts under development