You might not realize that you could use the pointy, two-pronged end of the hammer to puncture the top of the can, since you are so accustomed to using the hammer as simply a pounding tool. Unnecessary Constraints The dot problem: In the dot problem, described below, solvers must attempt to connect all nine dots with no more than four lines, without lifting their pen from the paper.
This is a barrier that shows up in problem solving that causes people to unconsciously place boundaries on the task at hand. A famous example of this barrier to problem solving is the dot problem. In this problem, there are nine dots arranged in a 3 x 3 square. The solver is asked to draw no more than four lines, without lifting their pen or pencil from the paper, that connect all of the dots.
What often happens is that the solver creates an assumption in their mind that they must connect the dots without letting the lines go outside the square of dots. The solvers are literally unable to think outside the box.
Standardized procedures of this nature often involve mentally invented constraints of this kind. Irrelevant Information Irrelevant information is information that is presented as part of a problem, but which is unrelated or unimportant to that problem and will not help solve it.
Typically, it detracts from the problem-solving process, as it may seem pertinent and distract people from finding the most efficient solution. This greatly influenced the behaviourist view of problem solving: The Gestalt approach By contrast, Gestalt psychologists argued that problem solving was a productive process.
In particular, in the process of thinking about a problem individuals sometimes "restructured" their representation of the problem, leading to a flash of insight that enabled them to reach a solution. A description of these studies, with photographs, can be found here. The Gestalt psychologists described several aspects of thought that acted as barriers to successful problem solving. One of these was called the Einstellung effect , now more commonly referred to as mental set or entrenchment.
This occurs when a problem solver becomes fixated on applying a strategy that has previously worked, but is less helpful for the current problem.
Luchins reported a study in which people had to use three jugs of differing capacity measured in cups to measure out a required amount of water given by the experimenter. Some people were given a series of "practice" trials prior to attempting the critical problems. These practice problems could be solved by filling Jug B, then tipping water from Jug B into Jug A until it is filled, and then twice using the remainging contents of Jug A to fill Jug C. Expressed as a formula, this is B - A - 2C.
However, although this formula could be applied to the subsequent "critical" problems, these also had simpler solutions, such as A - C. People who had experienced the practice problems mostly tried to apply the more complex solution to these later problems, unlike people who had not experienced the earlier problems who mostly found the simpler solutions.
Another barrier to problem solving is functional fixedness , whereby individuals fail to recognize that objects can be used for a purpose other than that they were designed for. Irrelevant or Misleading Information: When you are trying to solve a problem, it is important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions.
When a problem is very complex, the easier it becomes to focus on misleading or irrelevant information. Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people often make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions.
Mental Set: Another common problem-solving obstacle is known as a mental set, which is the tendency people have to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can often work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool.
However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions. Was this page helpful?
The solver is then asked to draw no more than four lines, without lifting their pen or pencil from the paper. This series of lines should connect all of the dots on the paper. Then, what typically happens is the subject creates an assumption in their mind that they must connect the dots without letting his or her pen or pencil go outside of the square of dots. It is from this phenomenon that the expression "think outside the box" is derived.
A few minutes of struggling over a problem can bring these sudden insights, where the solver quickly sees the solution clearly.
Problems such as this are most typically solved via insight and can be very difficult for the subject depending on either how they have structured the problem in their minds, how they draw on their past experiences, and how much they juggle this information in their working memories  In the case of the nine-dot example, the solver has already been structured incorrectly in their minds because of the constraint that they have placed upon the solution.
In addition to this, people experience struggles when they try to compare the problem to their prior knowledge, and they think they must keep their lines within the dots and not go beyond.
They do this because trying to envision the dots connected outside of the basic square puts a strain on their working memory. These tiny movements happen without the solver knowing. Then when the insight is realized fully, the "aha" moment happens for the subject.
Irrelevant information[ edit ] Irrelevant information is information presented within a problem that is unrelated or unimportant to the specific problem. Often irrelevant information is detrimental to the problem solving process. It is a common barrier that many people have trouble getting through, especially if they are not aware of it. Irrelevant information makes solving otherwise relatively simple problems much harder.
You select names at random from the Topeka phone book. How many of these people have unlisted phone numbers? They see that there is information present and they immediately think that it needs to be used. This of course is not true. These kinds of questions are often used to test students taking aptitude tests or cognitive evaluations. Irrelevant Information is commonly represented in math problems, word problems specifically, where numerical information is put for the purpose of challenging the individual.
One reason irrelevant information is so effective at keeping a person off topic and away from the relevant information, is in how it is represented. Whether a problem is represented visually, verbally, spatially, or mathematically, irrelevant information can have a profound effect on how long a problem takes to be solved; or if it's even possible.
The Buddhist monk problem is a classic example of irrelevant information and how it can be represented in different ways: A Buddhist monk begins at dawn one day walking up a mountain, reaches the top at sunset, meditates at the top for several days until one dawn when he begins to walk back to the foot of the mountain, which he reaches at sunset.
Making no assumptions about his starting or stopping or about his pace during the trips, prove that there is a place on the path which he occupies at the same hour of the day on the two separate journeys. Here is another popular type of puzzle [link] that challenges your spatial reasoning skills.
Connect all nine dots with four connecting straight lines without lifting your pencil from the paper: Did you figure it out? The answer is at the end of this section.
Sam Loyd, a well-known puzzle master, created and refined countless puzzles throughout his lifetime Cyclopedia of Puzzles, n. What challenges stop us from successfully solving a problem? One doorway that has always been open in the past is now locked. The person, accustomed to exiting the room by that particular doorway, keeps trying to get out through the same doorway even though the other three doorways are open.
The person is stuck—but she just needs to go to another doorway, instead of trying to get out through the locked doorway. A mental set is where you persist in approaching a problem in a way that has worked in the past but is clearly not working now. Functional fixedness is a type of mental set where you cannot perceive an object being used for something other than what it was designed for.
During the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, NASA engineers at Mission Control had to overcome functional fixedness to save the lives of the astronauts aboard the spacecraft. An explosion in a module of the spacecraft damaged multiple systems.
With the previous stated example, it seems as if it would make perfect sense to use the can of air freshener to kill the bug rather than to search for something else to serve that function but, as research shows, this is often not the case. A more sophisticated heuristic is means-ends analysis. If the man starts looking around for something in the house to kill the bug with instead of realizing that the can of air freshener could in fact be used not only as having its main function as to freshen the air, he is said to be experiencing functional fixedness. A description of these studies, with photographs, can be found here. The realtor may be challenging your anchoring bias.