Thinking and Problem Solving

Problem Solving
Chimps and Learning
Chimps and Learning II
•Problem Solving
refers to active efforts
to discover what must
be done to achieve a
goal that is not readily
•What strategies do we
use to solve
•What obstacles hinder
our problem solving?
Methods of Problem Solving
• Trial and Error – Thomas
Edison tried thousands of light
bulb filaments before
stumbling upon the one that
–No organization, no preparation
– try everything and anything
until something works
Methods of Problem Solving
• Algorithm – a
methodical, step-by-step,
logical rule or procedure
that guarantees solving a
particular problem
–IE. How many words can you
make out of the letters
letter in each position,
resulting in 907,200
combinations, and then pick
out the words that make
sense. Step-by-step.
Methods of Problem Solving
• Heuristics – a simple thinking
strategy that often allows us to
make judgments and solve
problems efficiently by adding
common sense shortcuts to
step-by-step procedures;
speedier, but more error-prone
than algorithms
–How many words can you make
out of the letters
SPLOYOCHYG? You know that
no words start with YY, so
eliminate all of those
combinations, as well as all of
the YG, YH, etc. You may miss
some real words, but you get an
Methods of Problem Solving
• Insight – a sudden and often
novel realization of the solution to
a problem.
–You’re stuck on a problem for a long
time, then suddenly the pieces just
fall together and you perceive a
solution – “AHA !!”
Obstacles to Problem Solving
• Representative Heuristics –
judging the likelihood of
things in terms of how well
they seem to represent, or
match, particular concepts
that we already have
–IE. You have a mental concept
of college professors and short,
slim, and intellectual. If
someone tells you a story about
a friend of theirs who is short,
slim, and likes poetry, and then
asks you if you think they are a
professor or a truck driver,
which do you say?
• IE. You’re a police officer, and a
call just went out to be on the
lookout for an unknown suspect
that just robbed a bank. If your
concept of bank robber is male,
black, and clean shaven….in
order to solve this problem you
will look for suspects matching
only this profile.
Obstacles to Problem Solving
• Availability Heuristic – making our
judgments based on the events
that are most readily available in
– Who to date next? Well, don’t date
blondes because your last
experience was a disaster. Where
to go to dinner? Don’t go to The Inn
because the last time you were
there it was overcooked.
Obstacles to Problem Solving
• Confirmation Bias – a
tendency to search for
answers and information
that confirms one’s own
• A teacher believes that boys
behave more badly than girls,
so she watches over the boys
more. At the end of the day,
she has written more
detentions for boys than for
girls, confirming her original
Obstacles to Problem Solving
• Fixation – only attempting to
solve a problem from a single
–The solutions that worked in the
past (mental set) often work on
new problems, and if they don’t,
we get frustrated and give up.
Obstacles to Problem Solving
• Functional Fixedness – the
tendency to think of things only in
terms of their usual functions
–It’s raining and you don’t have an
umbrella, but you could use the
plastic bag in your car. You can’t
get a screw loose without a
screwdriver, but you could use a
Obstacles to Problem Solving
• Overconfidence – the
tendency to be more
confident than correct –
to overestimate the
accuracy of one’s beliefs
and judgments
Obstacles to Problem Solving
• Belief Bias – the tendency for
one’s pre-existing beliefs to
distort logical reasoning
• Belief Perseverance – clinging
to one’s initial conceptions,
even after the bias has been
•When we think about
solving a problem,
how do we access
applicable information
in our memory in a
useful manner?
• Concepts – a
classification system
based on common
properties among
–IE. We have a mental concept
of dogs based on their common
physical traits of four legs, a tail,
fur, and their bark. Dogs can
then be broken down into large
breed and small breeds. Large
breed can then be broken down
into herders, hunters, guard,
etc. Herders can then be
broken down into ……
Fur, Four Legs, Tail, Bark
Large Breed
Over 50 lbs.
Small Breed
Under 50 lbs.
• Prototypes – a mental
image or best example of
each concept we have
–We match new items to our
mental prototypes in order to
allow or disallow items into
our concept groups
Fur, Four Legs, Tail, Bark
Large Breed
Over 50 lbs.
Small Breed
Under 50 lbs.
•Our prototype of a “dog”
is a Golden Retriever. A
new animal we meet has
four legs, a tail, fur,
barks, etc……compared
to our mental prototype
of a “dog”, it must also be
a “dog”