Problem Solving in Your Life

From organizing your film assortment to deciding to purchase a home, problem-solving makes up a big a part of day by day life. Issues can vary from small (fixing a single math equation in your homework task) to very massive (planning your future profession).

In cognitive psychology, the time period problem-solving refers back to the psychological course of that folks undergo to find, analyze, and resolve issues. This entails all the steps in the issue course of, together with the invention of the issue, the choice to deal with the problem, understanding the issue, researching the obtainable choices and taking actions to realize your objectives. Earlier than problem-solving can happen, you will need to first perceive the precise nature of the issue itself. In case your understanding of the problem is defective, your makes an attempt to resolve it can even be incorrect or flawed.

Psychological Processes at Work Throughout Downside-Fixing

There are a variety of psychological processes at work throughout problem-solving. These embrace:

  • Perceptually recognizing an issue
  • Representing the issue in memory
  • Contemplating related data that applies to the present downside
  • Establish totally different facets of the issue
  • Labeling and describing the issue

Downside-Fixing Methods

    • Algorithms: An algorithm is a step-by-step process that may all the time produce an accurate resolution. A mathematical method is an effective instance of a problem-solving algorithm. Whereas an algorithm ensures an correct reply, it isn’t all the time the very best strategy to problem-solving. This technique will not be sensible for a lot of conditions as a result of it may be so time-consuming. For instance, for those who have been attempting to determine all the doable quantity combos to a lock utilizing an algorithm, it could take a really very long time!
    • Heuristics: A heuristic is a psychological rule-of-thumb technique which will or might not work in sure conditions. In contrast to algorithms, heuristics don’t all the time assure an accurate resolution. Nonetheless, utilizing this problem-solving technique does permit folks to simplify complicated issues and scale back the entire variety of doable options to a extra manageable set.
    • Trial and Error: A trial-and-error strategy to problem-solving entails attempting plenty of totally different options and ruling out these that don’t work. This strategy could be a good possibility when you’ve got a really restricted variety of choices obtainable. If there are a lot of totally different selections, you might be higher off narrowing down the doable choices utilizing one other problem-solving method earlier than trying trial-and-error.
  • Perception: In some instances, the answer to an issue can seem as a sudden perception. In keeping with researchers, perception can happen since you understand that the issue is definitely much like one thing that you’ve handled previously, however most often, the underlying psychological processes that result in perception occur exterior of consciousness.

Obstacles in Downside-Fixing

After all, problem-solving will not be a flawless course of. There are a variety of various obstacles that may intrude with our capacity to resolve an issue rapidly and effectively. Researchers have described plenty of these psychological obstacles, which embrace practical fixedness, irrelevant data, and assumptions.

  • Functional Fixedness: This time period refers back to the tendency to view issues solely of their customary method. Useful fixedness prevents folks from absolutely seeing all the totally different choices that is likely to be obtainable to discover a resolution.
  • Irrelevant or Deceptive Info: If you find yourself attempting to resolve an issue, you will need to distinguish between data that’s related to the problem and irrelevant information that may result in defective options. When an issue may be very complicated, the better it turns into to concentrate on deceptive or irrelevant data.
  • Assumptions: When coping with an issue, folks usually make assumptions in regards to the constraints and obstacles that forestall sure options.
  • Mental Set: One other frequent problem-solving impediment is named a psychological set, which is the tendency folks must solely use options which have labored previously somewhat than on the lookout for various concepts. A psychological set can usually work as a heuristic, making it a helpful problem-solving instrument. Nonetheless, psychological units may also result in inflexibility, making it tougher to seek out efficient options.

Folks face issues daily—often, a number of issues all through the day. Generally these issues are easy: To double a recipe for pizza dough, for instance, all that’s required is that every ingredient within the recipe be doubled. Generally, nonetheless, the issues we encounter are extra advanced. For instance, say you might have a piece deadline, and it’s essential to mail a printed copy of a report back to your supervisor by the tip of the enterprise day. The report is time-sensitive and should be despatched in a single day. You completed the report final evening, however your printer won’t work immediately. What must you do? First, it’s essential determine the issue after which apply a method for fixing the issue.


If you find yourself offered with an issue—whether or not it’s a advanced mathematical drawback or a damaged printer, how do you remedy it? Earlier than discovering an answer to the issue, the issue should first be clearly recognized. After that, considered one of many drawback fixing methods may be utilized, hopefully leading to an answer.

problem-solving technique is a plan of motion used to discover a resolution. Completely different methods have completely different motion plans related to them. For instance, a well known technique is trial and error. The outdated adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, strive, strive once more” describes trial and error. When it comes to your damaged printer, you can strive checking the ink ranges, and if that doesn’t work, you can examine to ensure the paper tray isn’t jammed. Or possibly the printer isn’t really related to your laptop computer. When utilizing trial and error, you’ll proceed to strive completely different options till you solved your drawback. Though trial and error isn’t usually one of the vital time-efficient methods, it’s a generally used one.

Drawback-Fixing Methods
Technique Description Instance
Trial and error Proceed making an attempt completely different options till drawback is solved Restarting telephone, turning off WiFi, turning off bluetooth with the intention to decide why your telephone is malfunctioning
Algorithm Step-by-step problem-solving formulation Instruction handbook for putting in new software program in your laptop
Heuristic Basic problem-solving framework Working backwards; breaking a job into steps

One other kind of technique is an algorithm. An algorithm is a problem-solving formulation that gives you with step-by-step directions used to realize a desired end result (Kahneman, 2011). You possibly can consider an algorithm as a recipe with extremely detailed directions that produce the identical outcome each time they’re carried out. Algorithms are used continuously in our on a regular basis lives, particularly in laptop science. If you run a search on the Web, search engines like google and yahoo like Google use algorithms to determine which entries will seem first in your listing of outcomes. Fb additionally makes use of algorithms to determine which posts to show in your newsfeed. Are you able to determine different conditions through which algorithms are used?

A heuristic is one other kind of drawback fixing technique. Whereas an algorithm should be adopted precisely to provide an accurate outcome, a heuristic is a common problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You possibly can consider these as psychological shortcuts which might be used to unravel issues. A “rule of thumb” is an instance of a heuristic. Such a rule saves the particular person time and power when making a choice, however regardless of its time-saving traits, it’s not at all times one of the best methodology for making a rational resolution. Several types of heuristics are utilized in various kinds of conditions, however the impulse to make use of a heuristic happens when considered one of 5 circumstances is met (Pratkanis, 1989):

  • When one is confronted with an excessive amount of data
  • When the time to decide is proscribed
  • When the choice to be made is unimportant
  • When there’s entry to little or no data to make use of in making the choice
  • When an applicable heuristic occurs to return to thoughts in the identical second

Working backwards is a helpful heuristic through which you start fixing the issue by specializing in the tip outcome. Take into account this instance: You reside in Washington, D.C. and have been invited to a marriage at Four PM on Saturday in Philadelphia. Realizing that Interstate 95 tends to again up any day of the week, it’s essential plan your route and time your departure accordingly. If you wish to be on the marriage ceremony service by 3:30 PM, and it takes 2.5 hours to get to Philadelphia with out site visitors, what time must you go away your own home? You utilize the working backwards heuristic to plan the occasions of your day regularly, in all probability with out even fascinated by it.

One other helpful heuristic is the follow of undertaking a big objective or job by breaking it right into a sequence of smaller steps. College students typically use this frequent methodology to finish a big analysis undertaking or lengthy essay for college. For instance, college students usually brainstorm, develop a thesis or major subject, analysis the chosen subject, set up their data into a top level view, write a tough draft, revise and edit the tough draft, develop a last draft, set up the references listing, and proofread their work earlier than turning within the undertaking. The massive job turns into much less overwhelming when it’s damaged down right into a sequence of small steps.

On a regular basis Connections: Fixing Puzzles

Drawback-solving skills can enhance with follow. Many individuals problem themselves daily with puzzles and different psychological workouts to sharpen their problem-solving expertise. Sudoku puzzles seem every day in most newspapers. Sometimes, a sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid. The easy sudoku beneath a 4×Four grid. To resolve the puzzle, fill within the empty bins with a single digit: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Listed below are the foundations: The numbers should complete 10 in every bolded field, every row, and every column; nonetheless, every digit can solely seem as soon as in a bolded field, row, and column. Time your self as you remedy this puzzle and examine your time with a classmate.

A four column by four row Sudoku puzzle is shown. The top left cell contains the number 3. The top right cell contains the number 2. The bottom right cell contains the number 1. The bottom left cell contains the number 4. The cell at the intersection of the second row and the second column contains the number 4. The cell to the right of that contains the number 1. The cell below the cell containing the number 1 contains the number 2. The cell to the left of the cell containing the number 2 contains the number 3.

How lengthy did it take you to unravel this sudoku puzzle? (You possibly can see the reply on the finish of this part.)

Right here is one other fashionable kind of puzzle  that challenges your spatial reasoning expertise. Join all 9 dots with 4 connecting straight traces with out lifting your pencil from the paper:

A square shaped outline contains three rows and three columns of dots with equal space between them.

Did you work it out? (The reply is on the finish of this part.) When you perceive tips on how to crack this puzzle, you received’t neglect.

Check out the “Puzzling Scales” logic puzzle. Sam Loyd, a well known puzzle grasp, created and refined numerous puzzles all through his lifetime (Cyclopedia of Puzzles, n.d.).

A puzzle involving a scale is shown. At the top of the figure it reads: “Sam Loyds Puzzling Scales.” The first row of the puzzle shows a balanced scale with 3 blocks and a top on the left and 12 marbles on the right. Below this row it reads: “Since the scales now balance.” The next row of the puzzle shows a balanced scale with just the top on the left, and 1 block and 8 marbles on the right. Below this row it reads: “And balance when arranged this way.” The third row shows an unbalanced scale with the top on the left side, which is much lower than the right side. The right side is empty. Below this row it reads: “Then how many marbles will it require to balance with that top?”


Not all issues are efficiently solved, nonetheless. What challenges cease us from efficiently fixing an issue? Albert Einstein as soon as mentioned, “Madness is doing the identical factor over and over and anticipating a special outcome.” Think about an individual in a room that has 4 doorways. One doorway that has at all times been open previously is now locked. The particular person, accustomed to exiting the room by that individual doorway, retains making an attempt to get out via the identical doorway although the opposite three doorways are open. The particular person is caught—however she simply must go to a different doorway, as a substitute of making an attempt to get out via the locked doorway. A psychological set is the place you persist in approaching an issue in a approach that has labored previously however is clearly not working now.

Purposeful fixedness is a kind of psychological set the place you can’t understand an object getting used for one thing apart from what it was designed for. Through the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, NASA engineers at Mission Management needed to overcome purposeful fixedness to avoid wasting the lives of the astronauts aboard the spacecraft. An explosion in a module of the spacecraft broken a number of techniques. The astronauts had been at risk of being poisoned by rising ranges of carbon dioxide due to issues with the carbon dioxide filters. The engineers discovered a approach for the astronauts to make use of spare plastic luggage, tape, and air hoses to create a makeshift air filter, which saved the lives of the astronauts.


Researchers have investigated whether or not purposeful fixedness is affected by tradition. In a single experiment, people from the Shuar group in Ecuador had been requested to make use of an object for a function apart from that for which the item was initially supposed. For instance, the contributors had been instructed a narrative a few bear and a rabbit that had been separated by a river and requested to pick out amongst varied objects, together with a spoon, a cup, erasers, and so forth, to assist the animals. The spoon was the one object lengthy sufficient to span the imaginary river, but when the spoon was offered in a approach that mirrored its regular utilization, it took contributors longer to decide on the spoon to unravel the issue. (German & Barrett, 2005). The researchers needed to know if publicity to extremely specialised instruments, as happens with people in industrialized nations, impacts their means to transcend purposeful fixedness. It was decided that purposeful fixedness is skilled in each industrialized and nonindustrialized cultures (German & Barrett, 2005).

In an effort to make good selections, we use our data and our reasoning. Typically, this information and reasoning is sound and stable. Generally, nonetheless, we’re swayed by biases or by others manipulating a state of affairs. For instance, let’s say you and three associates needed to lease a home and had a mixed goal price range of $1,600. The realtor exhibits you solely very run-down homes for $1,600 after which exhibits you a really good home for $2,000. Would possibly you ask every particular person to pay extra in lease to get the $2,000 residence? Why would the realtor present you the run-down homes and the great home? The realtor could also be difficult your anchoring bias. An anchoring bias happens whenever you give attention to one piece of data when making a choice or fixing an issue. On this case, you’re so targeted on the amount of cash you’re prepared to spend that you could be not acknowledge what varieties of homes can be found at that value level.

The affirmation bias is the tendency to give attention to data that confirms your present beliefs. For instance, when you assume that your professor isn’t very good, you discover all the cases of impolite habits exhibited by the professor whereas ignoring the numerous nice interactions he’s concerned in every day. Hindsight bias leads you to imagine that the occasion you simply skilled was predictable, although it actually wasn’t. In different phrases, you knew all alongside that issues would prove the way in which they did. Consultant bias describes a defective mind-set, through which you unintentionally stereotype somebody or one thing; for instance, chances are you’ll assume that your professors spend their free time studying books and fascinating in mental dialog, as a result of the thought of them spending their time taking part in volleyball or visiting an amusement park doesn’t slot in together with your stereotypes of professors.

Lastly, the availability heuristic is a heuristic through which making a decision primarily based on an instance, data, or latest expertise that’s that available to you, although it might not be one of the best instance to tell your resolution. Biases are likely to “protect that which is already established—to keep up our preexisting data, beliefs, attitudes, and hypotheses” (Aronson, 1995; Kahneman, 2011). These biases are summarized in

Abstract of Determination Biases
Bias Description
Anchoring Tendency to give attention to one specific piece of data when making selections or problem-solving
Affirmation Focuses on data that confirms present beliefs
Hindsight Perception that the occasion simply skilled was predictable
Consultant Unintentional stereotyping of somebody or one thing
Availability Determination relies upon both an obtainable precedent or an instance that could be defective
The first puzzle is a Sudoku grid of 16 squares (4 rows of 4 squares) is shown. Half of the numbers were supplied to start the puzzle and are colored blue, and half have been filled in as the puzzle’s solution and are colored red. The numbers in each row of the grid, left to right, are as follows. Row 1: blue 3, red 1, red 4, blue 2. Row 2: red 2, blue 4, blue 1, red 3. Row 3: red 1, blue 3, blue 2, red 4. Row 4: blue 4, red 2, red 3, blue 1.The second puzzle consists of 9 dots arranged in 3 rows of 3 inside of a square. The solution, four straight lines made without lifting the pencil, is shown in a red line with arrows indicating the direction of movement. In order to solve the puzzle, the lines must extend beyond the borders of the box. The four connecting lines are drawn as follows. Line 1 begins at the top left dot, proceeds through the middle and right dots of the top row, and extends to the right beyond the border of the square. Line 2 extends from the end of line 1, through the right dot of the horizontally centered row, through the middle dot of the bottom row, and beyond the square’s border ending in the space beneath the left dot of the bottom row. Line 3 extends from the end of line 2 upwards through the left dots of the bottom, middle, and top rows. Line 4 extends from the end of line 3 through the middle dot in the middle row and ends at the right dot of the bottom row.


Many various methods exist for fixing issues. Typical methods embody trial and error, making use of algorithms, and utilizing heuristics. To resolve a big, difficult drawback, it typically helps to interrupt the issue into smaller steps that may be completed individually, resulting in an total resolution. Roadblocks to drawback fixing embody a psychological set, purposeful fixedness, and varied biases that may cloud resolution making expertise.

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