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PSYC 221 Lecture Notes - General Problem Solver, Problem Solving, Functional Fixedness

Course Code
PSYC 221
Thomas Spalek

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Nov 23, 2011 Chapter 12 Problem Solving 1
Thinking – formation of a new mental representation, created through
transformation of info you may already have by complex interaction of mental
attributes of judging, abstracting, reasoning, imagination, and problem solving
Problem solving – thinking directed toward handling a certain situation involving
the formation of responses AND the selection among possible responses
What is a problem?
There is an initial state
There is a goal state differing from the initial state
And then the process of going from the initial to the goal state isn’t
completely obvious
Four Features of Problems
GOAL – description of what constitutes a solution
Description of OBJECTS relevant to achieving a solution
A set of OPERATIONS toward the solution
A set of CONSTRAINTS not to be violated
Types of Problems
1. Knowledge-lean problems – solved, though not always skilfully, by using
instructions for the task and general problem solving skills (e.g., finding a
parking space)
2. Knowledge-rich problems – requires specific knowledge/skill to solve the
problem (e.g., calculus)
3. Well-defined – problems with clear-cut solutions; solved using algorithms
(e.g., crosswords)
4. Ill-defined – problem with multiple possible solutions; can’t be solved with
an algorithm (e.g., building a career)
Herb Simon
Studied protocols of subjects talking during problem solving
Problem Solving Process
Form initial problem representation try to plan potential solution
(If fail and can’t formulate solution try to reformulate
If you succeed execute plan and check results
(If the solution fails take break and retry)
Solution succeeds DONE
Aspects of Problem Solving
Problem space – domain of the problem and the choices the solver evaluates during

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Nov 23, 2011 Chapter 12 Problem Solving 2
Plan – hierarchical process that controls the order in which a sequence of operations is to be
Mutilated Checkerboard Problem
Wickelgren (1974)
General Methods
Generate-test method (“trial and error”)
Takes too long
Working memory is too limited to work through the whole problem for each of
the many possible solutions generated
E.g., fruit with a vowel as its fourth letter
Means-end analysis (a heuristic)
Break problem into subgoals
3 Types of Problems (Greeno)
1. Arrangement problems – e.g., anagrams: KEROJ JOKER
2. Inducing structure problems – e.g., 1 2 8 3 4 6 5 6 4 7 8
3. Transformation problems – e.g., Tower of Hanoi puzzle (PROBLEM SPACE) or
Rubik’s Cube
Connect the dots using only 4 lines
Mental Set
A tendency to repeat a solution process that has succeeded previously
Luchins, 1942
Water jar problem
Duncker (1945) Origin of “thinking outside the box”
Functional fixedness
Using the objects in the picture, mount the candle to the
People don’t think to use to box that the tacks are in.
Functional fixedness – treating an object as having only one
function; not thinking creatively
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