CHAPTER 10: PROBLEM-SOLVING
10.1 – Insight Problems and the Gestalt Theory of Thinking
Gestalt: Form or configuration.
o Consciousness doesn’t consist of one event after another but tends to be organized into
a coherent whole, or Gestalt.
Gestalt switch: A sudden change in the way info is organized.
o Can occur in response to verbal material.
Insight problem: A problem that requires a restructuring of the way in which it is represented
before it can be solved.
o Doesn’t require any additional info.
10.1.1 – Kohler and the Mentality of Apes
Kohler studied the process of problem-solving in chimpanzees.
o One chimpanzee was in a cage with fruit outside of the cage and beyond his reach.
There was a small stick inside the cage, and a longer stick outside.
He tried to use the short stick to get the fruit but was unsuccessful.
Insight came to the chimpanzee once he laid his eyes on the long stick he got
it and used it to get the fruit.
o Insight to Kohler is the ability to understand the way in which the parts of a situation are
related to one another.
It occurs spontaneously and suddenly. All-or-none = the chimpanzee either saw
the solution or he didn’t.
10.1.2 – Wertheimer and Productive Thinking
Productive Thinking: Thinking that occurs as a result of having a grasp of the general principles
that apply in the particular situation in which you find yourself.
Structurally blind thinking: The tendency to reproduce thinking appropriate for other situations,
but not for the current situation.
The tendency to apply previous learning blindly can sometimes lead you to get the right answer
without understanding WHY it is right.
10.1.3 – Duncker and Functional Fixedness
Analysis of the situation: Determining what functions the objects in the situation have and how
they can be used to solve the problem.
Functionally fixed: Being unable to see that a particular object could perform the function
needed to solve a problem; also, the tendency for people to think about objects based on the
function for which they were designed. 10.1.4 – Maier and the Concept of Direction
Maier’s 9 dot problem (left) and solution (right): Connect all the dots with 4 lines without lifting
the pen off the paper.
o The solution requires you to think outside of the box draw lines outside the area of
o We get fixated by the unnecessary assumption that we can only draw lines within the
o Hint: A hint must be consistent with the direction that the person’s thinking is taking,
and cannot be useful unless it responds to a difficulty that the person has already
That’s why some participants couldn’t solve the problem even after they got a
Maier’s 2-string problem: you need to tie the 2 strings together but they are too far apart to be
held at the same time. Solution: swing one of them.
o The hint given was when Maier brushed past one of the strings, setting it swinging.
o The solution suddenly appeared and participants were not likely to attribute the
solution to the hint = the insightful experience can mask the hint that gave rise to it.
10.1.5 - Insight Is Involuntary
One characteristic of insight problems: the solution appears suddenly.
Problems solved without insight are solved gradually. o Can tell that you are getting closer to the solution = getting warm.
Feeling of warmth: The feeling people might have as they approach the solution to a problem.
o This occurs because non-insight problems are solved step by step.
o For insight problems, warmth levels stay roughly the same until the solution is reached.
o Non-insight problems: feeling of warmth rises gradually.
Feeling of knowing: The feeling a person might have that they would be able to solve a particular
o Non-insight problem accurate prediction about ability to solve the problem.
o Insight problem inaccurate prediction.
These 2 feelings are examples of metacognition (how accurately you can assess your own cognitive
10.2 – Current Approaches to Insight Problems
10.2.1 – Progress Monitoring Theory
Progress monitoring theory: Participants monitor their progress on a problem, and when they
reach an impasse then they are open to an insightful solution.
o Participants try the most straight-forward route to a solution fail consider
alternative routes = open to an insightful solution.
Study done with the 9-dot problem.
o One group was given a line connection 3 dots horizontally and extending out of the
o Another group was given a diagonal line that did NOT extend out of the square.
This hint was more helpful than the first one!
Why? It lead participants to reach the impasse more quickly:
Given the diagonal line they can more easily see that if they follow a
strategy connecting the most dots possible with each line, then they will
be out of moves before reaching the solution.
This realization prompts the participant to consider alternative
10.2.2 – Representational Change Theory
Representational change theory: Insight requires a change in the way the participant represents
There are two processes central to the achieving of representational change:
o 1) Constraint relaxation: An aspect of representational change theory: the removal of
assumptions that are blocking problem solution.
o 2) Chunk decomposition: An aspect of representational change theory: parts of the
problem are seen as belonging together; ‘chunks’ are separated and thought about
independently. 10.2.3 – Insight and the Brain
Anterior cingulated cortex (ACC): detects conflicting response tendencies and facilitates the
process whereby we become aware of such conflicts.
o The Aha! experience that we get after solving a riddle (or hearing the solution)
corresponds to activation in the ACC.
This is an insightful experience.
Hippocampus: consolidates memories.
o Role in insight: fixes insightful experiences into long-term memory.
Evolutionarily, this enhances survival.
10.2.4 – Insight and Sleep
‘Sleeping on it’ is an excellent strategy to solve problems.
Number reduction task: (I don’t think we need to understand this task so it’s in grey)
o You’re given a list of 8 digits, and the list contains only the digits 1, 4, and 9. You’re also
given the first digit of the new list of 8 digits that you’ll generate below the first:
1 1 4 4 9 4 9 4
o Your task is to find the eighth digit. To do this, you start by generating another 7 digits,
underneath the first list, by applying the following rules from left to right:
o To generate the next digit, compare the new digit to the left with the old digit above
and to the right. Apply one of these two rules: if those two digits are the same, then
write down that same digit; if they are different, then write down the third digit (that’s
different from both of them). You’d be comparing 1 with 1, so you’d get 1 again:
1 1 4 4 9 4 9 4
o But the third time, you’re comparing 1 with 4 so the third new digit is 9. To get the
fourth new digit, you’d be comparing 9 with 4, so the fifth new digit is 1, etc.
o What the subjects didn’t know is that all of these number strings were created in such a
way that the last three new digits mirrored the previous three. (This is the insight).
o So once you discover that rule, you know that the third digit in the list–the second one
that you write–is going to also be the final digit.
Three groups of participants were given training:
o 1) Slept from 11pm-7am after the training o 2) Stayed awake from 11pm to 7am after the training.
o 3) Stayed awake from 11am to 7pm after the training.
Most of those that slept on it (59%) produced insightful solutions.
The others only 22%.
Conclusion: sleep promotes insight.
o Strengthens memory traces quantitatively.
o Catalyzes mental restructuring sets the stage for the emergence of insight.
10.3 – Functional Fixedness and the Design of Tools
Tools we use usually have only one function (ex: stapler, lawnmower)
This makes us functionally fixed = unable to think of a use for an object other than its intended
5-yr old kids are much less functionally fixed than older kids.
Study: give 5, 6, and 7-yr olds a box. They need to figure out that they can use the box to stand
on and not just as a container.
o Pre-utilization condition: box is full of items.
o No-pre-utilization condition: box is empty.
o Results: 5 yr olds are equally fast regardless of the condition.
Older kids perform much worse under the pre-utilization condition because they
assume that the box has only one function.
The Shuar people were studied because even as adults, they only get exposed to a small set of
manufactured tools, most of which are low-tech.
o Adults showed the same effect of pre-utilization as had the older kids of the box
Therefore, there may be a universal tendency for people to think about objects in the way in
which they were designed to be used.
10.4 – The Flexibility-Rigidity Dimension
Water jar problems:
o You are given 3 jars, labeled A, B, and C.
o These jars have capacities of 21, 127, and 3 liters, respectively.
o Problem: how can you use them to obtain a volume of 100 liters of water?
o Solution: B minus A minus 2C.
Einstellung effect: Aka rigid set. This is the tendency to respond inflexibly in a problem situation.
Once participants were given several water jar problems that all had the same solution (