What is the role of emotion in logical reasoning, and can feelings enhance learning? Abductive reasoning seeks the most likely conclusion by utilising observation and intuitive feeling.

Deduction and induction are methods of reasoning commonly used in science. They test theories against reality, or vice versa, relying on scientifically acknowledged phenomena and models.

Abductive reasoning, in contrast, is a thought process that starts from our experience of the existing – specifically, what feels strange, or even wrong – for which we seek a reasonable explanation. It's a logic we use every day.

Our students have acquired experiences from their studies, but also from life outside of studies. I try to encourage them to look back on events that have puzzled them.

Jutta Balldin


”Many are familiar with the concept, but there is value in delving deeper into abductive reasoning. We can use it to rethink education and research to develop and challenge current practices. It invites us to take our doubts seriously and ask, how could we think and act differently. It is a thought process that aims to innovate and change by stopping at what is bothering you, rather than rushing towards a predetermined goal. We should be asking questions about the world around us, not giving definitive answers,” says Jutta Balldin, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Education and Society.

Abductive reasoning challenges the common assumption that research has a predetermined beginning and a definite end. The logic is based on the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce’s model where all our thoughts come from feelings that arise in our encounters with the environment. To understand our experience, we review possible explanations to arrive at the best conclusion.

”In abductive reasoning, questions have a central role, but they must arise from experience and genuine pondering in order to enhance new thinking. The research ends when we can formulate an answer or explanation that seems plausible in the here and now.”

The method reveals something important about the role of imagination in scientific reasoning. For most scientists, abductive reasoning is an instinctive part of their research process.

Balldin has deliberately used the method in her research. In one of her projects, she explored the environment and practices of a preschool bus. While observing children on their daily journey, she once noticed that when passing a bridge, all of them raised their hands and honked. While the event was over in a few seconds, it stuck in her memory and, subsequently, raised new questions about knowledge and meaning.

Although primarily associated with research, abductive reasoning is also relevant in education and pedagogy, she says.

”Our students have acquired experiences from their studies, but also from life outside. I try to encourage them to look back on events that have puzzled them. In this way, we can formulate questions for courses, or student essays, that link theory to practice. This can lead to more meaningful course essays and enhanced learning. Often, these questions are also interesting to others.”

Text: Marc Malmqvist & Anna Jaakonaho

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