The Uncritical Inference Test

For Internet use only, except with the written permission of the author. Version 2

This test tries to show up how we jump to conclusions, by unconsciously making incorrect inferences based on the facts given. It will also test your ability to evaluate accurately. The test follows these steps:

  1. You read a test story in which you should treat all the information in the story as true and accurate.
  2. A set of statements about the story, follow it. Please read the statements and work out whether you find them: True, False or unsure. You show this by clicking on the appropriate "radio" button to the right of the statement, to give your evaluations of statements about the story. The buttons have the following labels which mean:

    T     stands for a definitely True statement about the information given in the story.

    F     stands for a definitely False statement about the information given in the story.

    ?     stands for a statement that could be true or false but based on the information in the story, you cannot tell which, for certain. So you are unsure to some degree.

  1. Once you have answered a question, please do not go back and change the answer once you see later questions.
  2. When you have evaluated all the statements, then press the button named "Test Answers" to mark your test.

Note: There is no time limit on this test and you may refer back to the story as often as you like.

A sample story and test is given below with correct answers.

Sample Story

A white van parked in the drive of 70 Higg's Road has "Ruddenklau Electrical Nelson Ltd" painted on the side of it in large red letters.

Statements about the sample story, with correct answers.

1. The color of the van parked in the drive of 70 Higg's Road is white. T=True
2. There are no red letters painted on the side of this van. F=False
3. An electrical appliance has broken down at 70 Higg's Road. ?=Unsure
4. The van belongs to Mr Ruddenklau. ?=Unsure

Now try your skill on the next story. Remember to only answer True or False if you are certain that the statement is correct or incorrect.

Test Story 1

A couple decided to go boating on a sunny summers day. He packed the fishing rods in the speed boat, then asked his wife if the petrol tank was full. She said, "Yes, the petrol tank is full." They drove down to the jetty and launched the boat. The couple then sped out onto the sea in the speed boat. After going for about ten minutes the speed boat's motor spluttered then stopped. They arrived back at the shore several hours later.

Statements about the story

1. The couple went boating.
T    F    ?
2. The couple intended to go fishing.
T    F    ?
3. They didn't catch any fish, because the motor stopped.
T    F    ?
4. The motor stopped because they ran out of petrol.
T    F    ?
5. They couldn't have run out of petrol because she had looked in the petrol tanks and saw that they were full.
T    F    ?
6. She said that the petrol tank was full.
T    F    ?
7. He believed what she said about the petrol was true.
T    F    ?
8. The boats outboard motor stopped after 10 minutes.
T    F    ?
9. The boat sped out onto the lake on a sunny summers day?
T    F    ?
10. Because the motor broke down they had to row back to shore?
T    F    ?
11. The car they used to tow the boat had a full tank of gas?
T    F    ?
12. The water was calm?
T    F    ?

For the correct results and an explanation of these results click on "Test 1 Answers" button



How to improve your test score

You can do this by learning about how you make uncritical inferences and how to remedy this.

One of the main ways that we do this is by mixing up statements of facts with inferences. Below I give a list of some of the differences between statements of fact and those of inference.

Factual statements Inferential statements
1. Based on observations. 1. Based on any of: observations, factual statements, other inferential statements, evaluations or assumptions, etc.
2. Hence can only be made after an observation. 2. Can be made after, during or before an observation, or relate to no observation at all.
3. Limits itself to observed information. 3. Moves beyond observed information and/or is unrelated to it. Removes and/or adds in new information.
4. Hence limited number of statements. 4. Unlimited number of statements can be made.
5. Statement reliability nearly certain. 5. Statement reliability varies from very low to high. Science uses many independent facts (observations) to increase the reliability of its inferences (theories).
6. Increases chance of agreement. 6. Decreases chance of agreement.

Another difference between statements of fact and inference is their order in the abstracting process. By "abstracting process", I mean the process we humans use the to gain information about reality/the world.

The natural abstracting order goes through the following levels:

1st Reality (or "the territory" as general semanticists call it.)

2nd Observations of reality. E.g. seeing, hearing, touching, etc. We call these "facts". This is our non-verbal perception of reality. (General semanticists call this the "object level".)

3rd Statements of fact. I.e. direct descriptions of the observation. (We are now at the lowest verbal abstracting level.)

4th Statements involving inferences. I.e. we go beyond the direct description of the observation.

5th Etc. More inferences, evaluations, theories, etc, etc. These can go on indefinitely.  For as many levels as you like.

So facts and statements of facts are more basic than inferences. I.e. they come earlier in the natural abstracting process. Confusing or identifying these different levels can lead to problems.

The whole abstracting process both leaves out information from the previous level and adds in new information that was not present at the previous level. So watch out for significant information left out and/or new incorrect information added in.

Examples of inferences:

In the sample story the statement "The color of the van parked in the drive of 1 Higg's Road is white." is a factual statement because it only describes the facts stated in the story.

Whereas the statement "An electrical appliance has broken down at 1 Higg's Road." goes beyond the information in the story by inferring that an electrician owns the van and is on a service call to this address. I.e. the inference goes beyond the stated facts.

Similarly, the statement "The van belongs to Mr Ruddenklau." goes beyond the description that the van has "Ruddenklau Electrical Nelson Ltd" painted on the side, to infer that only the person who owns it would have their name on it, because this is normally the case. This is not necessarily true however as the van could be: leased or have been sold to someone else who has yet to remove the lettering, etc.

Other examples of inferential statements are:

"Mrs Peel is rich because she drives a Porsche."

"My wife is always checking on me to see if I'm cheating."

"My husband is lazy because he just lies in his armchair when he gets home after work."

"People don't like me because I have pimples."

"The owners of the business I work for, make all the money."

None of these are necessarily correct statements. They go beyond what is observed. For instance, Mrs Peel may rent the car she drives, etc. I leave it up to you to work out other possible conclusions to the above inferences. While they may likely be true, they are not ALWAYS true. And you could get into problems by assuming that they are true.

Some solutions to inferential problems

Try to do the following with your own evaluating:

  1. Become more conscious that you are using inferences rather than just "the facts." Know the differences between them.
  2. Hence try and avoid behavior/thinking based on inferences as though they were facts.
  3. Check your inferences with the facts.
  4. Use the scientific method. I.e. Start with the facts, then induce some inferences from them. Finally check out these inferences with further facts.


Also, if people try to pass off inferences as factual statements, ask them:

  1. "What do you mean?" To make sure you didn't misunderstand. I.e. try to reduce your communication errors due to incorrectly inferring what you think they might mean.
  2. Then ask: "How do you know?" to find out what the statement is based on. I.e. Facts, inferences or something else.

For more information on uncritical inferences, try reading some general semantics texts, like Why Do We Jump to Conclusions? by Dr. Sanford. I. Berman. Or some other book on the general semantics reading list.


Now try applying the above formulations with this second test story. Remember, only choose True or False if you are certain. And do not go back to change any answer.

Test Story 2

Mr Gosane, whose first name is Fred, has behaved abnormally for the past week. He has missed work because of this. His wife Pat, who has had enough of this, decided to call their doctor. Later that day, the only car parked in Fred's driveway is a bright red car with the letters "Dr A. Korzybski" painted on it. Upstairs in Fred's bedroom, a light is on.

Statements about the story

  1. Dr Korzybski owns a bright red car.
    T    F    ?
  2. Dr Korzybski's first name is Alfred.
    T    F    ?
  3. The car parked in Fred's driveway is bright blue.
    T    F    ?
  4. The letters on the car are painted in red.
    T    F    ?
  5. The letters "Dr A. Korzybski" are painted on the side of the car.
    T    F    ?
  6. Pat is Fred's wife.
    T    F    ?
  7. Fred's wife called the doctor.
    T    F    ?
  8. The full name of Fred's wife Pat, is Patricia.
    T    F    ?
  9. Fred's surname is Gosseyn.
    T    F    ?
  10. Fred has behaved abnormally since the beginning of the year.
    T    F    ?
  11. Fred has lost his memory.
    T    F    ?
  12. Dr Korzybski is in the house helping Fred overcome his unsanity.
    T    F    ?
  13. Dr Korzybski is talking to Fred in his bedroom.
    T    F    ?
  14. Fred is happy to be away from the stress at work.
    T    F    ?
  15. Dr Korzybski parked the car in Fred's driveway.
    T    F    ?
  16. It is night time.
    T    F    ?
  17. Fred has been off work for the past week.
    T    F    ?
  18. There are two cars parked in the driveway. Fred's and Dr Korzybski's. 
    T    F    ?
  19. Fred is in his bedroom with his wife Pat.
    T    F    ?
  20. Their son Greg is at a GS seminar.
    T    F    ?

For the correct results and an explanation of these results click on "Test 2 Answers" button



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