This article discusses how both of these approaches to everyday problem solving inform research on the influence that aging has on everyday functioning. Keywords: everyday problem solving, aging, coping, practical intelligence, decision making Introduction As mentioned in many chapters in this review volume, a common theme of the cognitive aging literature is a steady decline in functioning.
As we get older, we experience changes in processing speed, 1 — 3 memory, 4 reasoning, 5 attention, 6 , 7 and executive functioning. They live full lives and occupy as many roles in society as younger individuals, if not more roles, and they are relied upon as authority figures—leaders, advisors, employers, parents, and grandparents. This divergence between declines in lab-assessed cognitive functioning and maintained interpersonal influence is what fuels research on everyday problem solving across the adult half of the life span.
Research in this field focuses on defining the conditions under which older adults may have difficulties with these problems e. In addition, research in this field also focuses on examining how those processes that we use to solve problems change across the adult life span and lead us to implement different types of strategies based upon the goals that we set at each stage of life. Everyday problems are the circumstances that we find ourselves in on a daily basis that involve using the skills, accumulated knowledge, and resources e.
For instance, if you return to your automobile at the airport to find that you have a flat tire, the steps that are required to effectively resolve the problem so that you can be on your way are quite clear.
Success depends upon your ability to implement these steps e. On the other hand, everyday problems sometimes create obstacles that cannot be directly removed and require a careful balance of knowing not just what to do but when to do it. For example, should you find yourself in a disagreement with your partner on what to give your child as a gift on a birthday, you can each give the child your respective preferred gifts.
However, how will you resolve the negativity that emerged as a result of conflicting preferences? What if you have a limited number of resources to devote to a gift and a compromise is necessary to resolve the conflict? If you have to involve others in the problem-solving process, it is challenging to ensure that all parties have the same goals in mind.
Moreover, you cannot proceed forward to acquire the gift until you have buy-in from others. When problems are ill-defined, the timing of your actions is important because you may have to refrain from acting until a negotiation can take place.
In such a situation, it is important to recognize how to regulate your own emotions and how to influence the emotions and thought processes of others. Included is a a description of the methods used to assess everyday problem-solving performance and the diversity in findings that emerges when age's impact on everyday problem solving is gauged using well-defined versus ill-defined problems as well as different operational definitions of efficacy, b a description of the contextual factors that lead to age differences in everyday problem solving, and c a brief assessment of the future directions of the field.
Assessing age differences in everyday problem-solving performance As mentioned earlier, decades of research on cognitive aging demonstrate gradual decline in functioning over time. This decline, however, runs counter to the notion that with age comes wisdom, or at least an accumulation of experiences that can help us determine how to continue to function when faced with problems. Baltes referred to these divergent trends as multidirectionality, and he believed that two distinct systems of cognition existed to capture these trends: pragmatic knowledge and structural mechanics.
Conversely, the hard-wired, biologically determined mechanisms that support cognition sometimes called fluid intelligence slowly degrade as our cells and tissues wear out over time. Key to successful aging is how the change that takes place in these two systems balance against one another.
This selection process limits the number of goals that we consider at any given stage of our life so as to make it possible to optimize the investment of our resources to maintain the greatest level of successful functioning as is possible. These two questions have dominated research on everyday problem solving and aging over the past 25 years.
Consistent with the need to map cognitive decline onto everyday problem solving, many everyday problem-solving tasks consist of a pool of well-defined problems from multiple domains e.
This looks like a fairly well-defined problem, with a definite goal and single answer to it. The goal and answer are locating the marshmallows. The solution is to show the customer where they are located in the store. A well-defined, routine problem, which is encountered many times a day in my work, is solved.
Now, a customer approaches me with another problem. This customer wants to participate in the promotion on pomegranates, but does not know how to eat this item or what it can be used for. This is an ill-defined problem, with many solutions. This is where expertise on the product can come into solving the problem, but also some creativity as well, since there are multiple solutions of what the particular product could be used for.
Problem solving is something that we all do on a daily basis in our work, at home and in school. When traffic backs up, problem solving skills can help you figure out alternatives to avoid congestion, resolve the immediate situation and develop a solution to avoid encountering the situation in the future.
What is that stain on the living room carpet? Parents, pet owners and spouses face this situation all the time. The living room carpet was clean yesterday but somehow a mysterious stain has appeared and nobody is claiming it. In order to clean it effectively, first you need to figure out what it is.
Problem solving can help you track down the culprit, diagnose the cause of the stain and develop an action plan to get your home clean and fresh again. What is that smell coming from my teenage son's room? The problem solving parent knows from experience that the source of the funk is probably in the bottom of the closet or under the bed. The challenge is figuring out how to contain and mitigate the impact and develop an actionable solution to avoid the situation in the future.
I don't think the car is supposed to make that thumping noise As with many problems in the workplace, this may be a situation to bring in problem solving experts in the form of your trusted mechanic. If that isn't an option, problem solving skills can be helpful to diagnose and assess the impact of the situation to ensure you can get where you need to be. Why is the baby crying?
When faced with an ill-defined problem, success was based on the overall number of safe and effective solutions that the individual offered as potential ways of managing the problem. Additional items in the battery focus on medication use and understanding financial information. The only downfall to having expertise is that the expert can sometimes get hung up on the knowledge they already have and end up lacking necessary creativity to solve the problem Goldstein, If an ill-defined problem involved balancing one's checkbook or managing finances, then recommending the addition of deposits and subtraction of expenditures would be an effective solution.