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What Are Heuristics?

These mental shortcuts can help people make decisions more efficiently

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Verywell / Cindy Chung 

  • History and Origins
  • Heuristics vs. Algorithms
  • Heuristics and Bias

How to Make Better Decisions

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that allow people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. These rule-of-thumb strategies shorten decision-making time and allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about their next course of action.

However, there are both benefits and drawbacks of heuristics. While heuristics are helpful in many situations, they can also lead to  cognitive biases . Becoming aware of this might help you make better and more accurate decisions.

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The History and Origins of Heuristics

Nobel-prize winning economist and cognitive psychologist Herbert Simon originally introduced the concept of heuristics in psychology in the 1950s. He suggested that while people strive to make rational choices, human judgment is subject to cognitive limitations. Purely rational decisions would involve weighing all the potential costs and possible benefits of every alternative.

But people are limited by the amount of time they have to make a choice as well as the amount of information they have at their disposal. Other factors such as overall intelligence and accuracy of perceptions also influence the decision-making process.

During the 1970s, psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman presented their research on cognitive biases. They proposed that these biases influence how people think and the judgments people make.

As a result of these limitations, we are forced to rely on mental shortcuts to help us make sense of the world. Simon's research demonstrated that humans were limited in their ability to make rational decisions, but it was Tversky and Kahneman's work that introduced the study of heuristics and the specific ways of thinking that people rely on to simplify the decision-making process.

How Heuristics Are Used

Heuristics play important roles in both  problem-solving  and  decision-making , as we often turn to these mental shortcuts when we need a quick solution.

Here are a few different theories from psychologists about why we rely on heuristics.

  • Attribute substitution : People substitute simpler but related questions in place of more complex and difficult questions.
  • Effort reduction : People use heuristics as a type of cognitive laziness to reduce the mental effort required to make choices and decisions.
  • Fast and frugal : People use heuristics because they can be fast and correct in certain contexts. Some theories argue that heuristics are actually more accurate than they are biased.

In order to cope with the tremendous amount of information we encounter and to speed up the decision-making process, our brains rely on these mental strategies to simplify things so we don't have to spend endless amounts of time analyzing every detail.

You probably make hundreds or even thousands of decisions every day. What should you have for breakfast? What should you wear today? Should you drive or take the bus? Fortunately, heuristics allow you to make such decisions with relative ease and without a great deal of agonizing.

There are many heuristics examples in everyday life. When trying to decide if you should drive or ride the bus to work, for instance, you might remember that there is road construction along the bus route. You realize that this might slow the bus and cause you to be late for work. So you leave earlier and drive to work on an alternate route.

Heuristics allow you to think through the possible outcomes quickly and arrive at a solution.

Are Heuristics Good or Bad?

Heuristics aren't inherently good or bad, but there are pros and cons to using them to make decisions. While they can help us figure out a solution to a problem faster, they can also lead to inaccurate judgments about other people or situations.

Types of Heuristics

There are many different kinds of heuristics. While each type plays a role in decision-making, they occur during different contexts. Understanding the types can help you better understand which one you are using and when.

Availability

The availability heuristic  involves making decisions based upon how easy it is to bring something to mind. When you are trying to make a decision, you might quickly remember a number of relevant examples. Since these are more readily available in your memory, you will likely judge these outcomes as being more common or frequently occurring.

For example, if you are thinking of flying and suddenly think of a number of recent airline accidents, you might feel like air travel is too dangerous and decide to travel by car instead. Because those examples of air disasters came to mind so easily, the availability heuristic leads you to think that plane crashes are more common than they really are.

Familiarity

The familiarity heuristic refers to how people tend to have more favorable opinions of things, people, or places they've experienced before as opposed to new ones. In fact, given two options, people may choose something they're more familiar with even if the new option provides more benefits.

Representativeness

The representativeness heuristic  involves making a decision by comparing the present situation to the most representative mental prototype. When you are trying to decide if someone is trustworthy, you might compare aspects of the individual to other mental examples you hold.

A soft-spoken older woman might remind you of your grandmother, so you might immediately assume that she is kind, gentle, and trustworthy. However, this is an example of a heuristic bias, as you can't know someone trustworthy based on their age alone.

The affect heuristic involves making choices that are influenced by the emotions that an individual is experiencing at that moment. For example, research has shown that people are more likely to see decisions as having benefits and lower risks when they are in a positive mood. Negative emotions, on the other hand, lead people to focus on the potential downsides of a decision rather than the possible benefits.

The anchoring bias involves the tendency to be overly influenced by the first bit of information we hear or learn. This can make it more difficult to consider other factors and lead to poor choices. For example, anchoring bias can influence how much you are willing to pay for something, causing you to jump at the first offer without shopping around for a better deal.

Scarcity is a principle in heuristics in which we view things that are scarce or less available to us as inherently more valuable. The scarcity heuristic is one often used by marketers to influence people to buy certain products. This is why you'll often see signs that advertise "limited time only" or that tell you to "get yours while supplies last."

Trial and Error

Trial and error is another type of heuristic in which people use a number of different strategies to solve something until they find what works. Examples of this type of heuristic are evident in everyday life. People use trial and error when they're playing video games, finding the fastest driving route to work, and learning to ride a bike (or learning any new skill).

Difference Between Heuristics and Algorithms

Though the terms are often confused, heuristics and algorithms are two distinct terms in psychology.

Algorithms are step-by-step instructions that lead to predictable, reliable outcomes; whereas heuristics are mental shortcuts that are basically best guesses. Algorithms always lead to accurate outcomes, whereas, heuristics do not.

Examples of algorithms include instructions for how to put together a piece of furniture or a recipe for cooking a certain dish. Health professionals also create algorithms or processes to follow in order to determine what type of treatment to use on a patient.

How Heuristics Can Lead to Bias

While heuristics can help us solve problems and speed up our decision-making process, they can introduce errors. As in the examples above, heuristics can lead to inaccurate judgments about how commonly things occur and about how representative certain things may be.

Just because something has worked in the past does not mean that it will work again, and relying on a heuristic can make it difficult to see alternative solutions or come up with new ideas.

Heuristics can also contribute to stereotypes and  prejudice . Because people use mental shortcuts to classify and categorize people, they often overlook more relevant information and create stereotyped categorizations that are not in tune with reality.

While heuristics can be a useful tool, there are ways you can improve your decision-making and avoid cognitive bias at the same time.

We are more likely to make an error in judgment if we are trying to make a decision quickly or are under pressure to do so. Whenever possible, take a few deep breaths . Do something to distract yourself from the decision at hand. When you return to it, you may find you have a fresh perspective, or notice something you didn't before.

Identify the Goal

We tend to focus automatically on what works for us and make decisions that serve our best interest. But take a moment to know what you're trying to achieve. Are there other people who will be affected by this decision? What's best for them? Is there a common goal that can be achieved that will serve all parties?

Process Your Emotions

Fast decision-making is often influenced by emotions from past experiences that bubble to the surface. Is your decision based on facts or emotions? While emotions can be helpful, they may affect decisions in a negative way if they prevent us from seeing the full picture.

Recognize All-or-Nothing Thinking

When making a decision, it's a common tendency to believe you have to pick a single, well-defined path, and there's no going back. In reality, this often isn't the case.

Sometimes there are compromises involving two choices, or a third or fourth option that we didn't even think of at first. Try to recognize the nuances and possibilities of all choices involved, instead of using all-or-nothing thinking .

Rachlin H. Rational thought and rational behavior: A review of bounded rationality: The adaptive toolbox . J Exp Anal Behav . 2003;79(3):409–412. doi:10.1901/jeab.2003.79-409

Shah AK, Oppenheimer DM. Heuristics made easy: An effort-reduction framework . Psychol Bull. 2008;134(2):207-22. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.134.2.207

Marewski JN, Gigerenzer G. Heuristic decision making in medicine .  Dialogues Clin Neurosci . 2012;14(1):77–89. PMID: 22577307

Schwikert SR, Curran T. Familiarity and recollection in heuristic decision making .  J Exp Psychol Gen . 2014;143(6):2341-2365. doi:10.1037/xge0000024

Finucane M, Alhakami A, Slovic P, Johnson S. The affect heuristic in judgments of risks and benefits . J Behav Decis Mak . 2000; 13(1):1-17. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1099-0771(200001/03)13:1<1::AID-BDM333>3.0.CO;2-S

Cheung TT, Kroese FM, Fennis BM, De Ridder DT. Put a limit on it: The protective effects of scarcity heuristics when self-control is low . Health Psychol Open . 2015;2(2):2055102915615046. doi:10.1177/2055102915615046

Mohr H, Zwosta K, Markovic D, Bitzer S, Wolfensteller U, Ruge H. Deterministic response strategies in a trial-and-error learning task . Inman C, ed. PLoS Comput Biol. 2018;14(11):e1006621. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006621

Lang JM, Ford JD, Fitzgerald MM.  An algorithm for determining use of trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy .  Psychotherapy   (Chic) . 2010;47(4):554-69. doi:10.1037/a0021184

Bigler RS, Clark C. The inherence heuristic: A key theoretical addition to understanding social stereotyping and prejudice. Behav Brain Sci . 2014;37(5):483-4. doi:10.1017/S0140525X1300366X

del Campo C, Pauser S, Steiner E, et al.  Decision making styles and the use of heuristics in decision making .  J Bus Econ.  2016;86:389–412. doi:10.1007/s11573-016-0811-y

Marewski JN, Gigerenzer G. Heuristic decision making in medicine .  Dialogues Clin Neurosci . 2012;14(1):77-89. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2012.14.1/jmarewski

Zheng Y, Yang Z, Jin C, Qi Y, Liu X. The influence of emotion on fairness-related decision making: A critical review of theories and evidence .  Front Psychol . 2017;8:1592. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01592

Bazerman MH. Judgment and decision making. In: Biswas-Diener R, Diener E, eds.,  Noba Textbook Series: Psychology.  DEF Publishers.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

VectorKnight/Shutterstock

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows an individual to make a decision, pass judgment, or solve a problem quickly and with minimal mental effort. While heuristics can reduce the burden of decision-making and free up limited cognitive resources, they can also be costly when they lead individuals to miss critical information or act on unjust biases.

  • Understanding Heuristics
  • Different Heuristics
  • Problems with Heuristics

Cat Box/Shutterstock

As humans move throughout the world, they must process large amounts of information and make many choices with limited amounts of time. When information is missing, or an immediate decision is necessary, heuristics act as “rules of thumb” that guide behavior down the most efficient pathway.

Heuristics are not unique to humans; animals use heuristics that, though less complex, also serve to simplify decision-making and reduce cognitive load.

Generally, yes. Navigating day-to-day life requires everyone to make countless small decisions within a limited timeframe. Heuristics can help individuals save time and mental energy, freeing up cognitive resources for more complex planning and problem-solving endeavors.

The human brain and all its processes—including heuristics— developed over millions of years of evolution . Since mental shortcuts save both cognitive energy and time, they likely provided an advantage to those who relied on them.

Heuristics that were helpful to early humans may not be universally beneficial today . The familiarity heuristic, for example—in which the familiar is preferred over the unknown—could steer early humans toward foods or people that were safe, but may trigger anxiety or unfair biases in modern times.

fizkes/Shutterstock

The study of heuristics was developed by renowned psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Starting in the 1970s, Kahneman and Tversky identified several different kinds of heuristics, most notably the availability heuristic and the anchoring heuristic.

Since then, researchers have continued their work and identified many different kinds of heuristics, including:

Familiarity heuristic

Fundamental attribution error

Representativeness heuristic

Satisficing

The anchoring heuristic, or anchoring bias , occurs when someone relies more heavily on the first piece of information learned when making a choice, even if it's not the most relevant. In such cases, anchoring is likely to steer individuals wrong .

The availability heuristic describes the mental shortcut in which someone estimates whether something is likely to occur based on how readily examples come to mind . People tend to overestimate the probability of plane crashes, homicides, and shark attacks, for instance, because examples of such events are easily remembered.

People who make use of the representativeness heuristic categorize objects (or other people) based on how similar they are to known entities —assuming someone described as "quiet" is more likely to be a librarian than a politician, for instance. 

Satisficing is a decision-making strategy in which the first option that satisfies certain criteria is selected , even if other, better options may exist.

KieferPix/Shutterstock

Heuristics, while useful, are imperfect; if relied on too heavily, they can result in incorrect judgments or cognitive biases. Some are more likely to steer people wrong than others.

Assuming, for example, that child abductions are common because they’re frequently reported on the news—an example of the availability heuristic—may trigger unnecessary fear or overprotective parenting practices. Understanding commonly unhelpful heuristics, and identifying situations where they could affect behavior, may help individuals avoid such mental pitfalls.

Sometimes called the attribution effect or correspondence bias, the term describes a tendency to attribute others’ behavior primarily to internal factors—like personality or character— while attributing one’s own behavior more to external or situational factors .

If one person steps on the foot of another in a crowded elevator, the victim may attribute it to carelessness. If, on the other hand, they themselves step on another’s foot, they may be more likely to attribute the mistake to being jostled by someone else .

Listen to your gut, but don’t rely on it . Think through major problems methodically—by making a list of pros and cons, for instance, or consulting with people you trust. Make extra time to think through tasks where snap decisions could cause significant problems, such as catching an important flight.

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Artificial intelligence already plays a role in deciding who’s getting hired. The way to improve AI is very similar to how we fight human biases.

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Think you are avoiding the motherhood penalty by not having children? Think again. Simply being a woman of childbearing age can trigger discrimination.

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Psychological experiments on human judgment under uncertainty showed that people often stray from presumptions about rational economic agents.

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Psychology, like other disciplines, uses the scientific method to acquire knowledge and uncover truths—but we still ask experts for information and rely on intuition. Here's why.

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We all experience these 3 cognitive blind spots at work, frequently unaware of their costs in terms of productivity and misunderstanding. Try these strategies to work around them.

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Have you ever fallen for fake news? This toolkit can help you easily evaluate whether a claim is real or phony.

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

An insidious form of prejudice occurs when a more powerful group ignores groups with less power and keeps them out of the minds of society.

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

We can never know everything and yet unconscious biases often convince us that we do. Being alert to your own ignorance is crucial for more efficient thinking in daily life.

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Chatbot designers engage in dishonest anthropomorphism by designing features to exploit our heuristic processing and dupe us into overtrusting and assigning moral responsibility.

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How do social media influencers convert a scroll into a like, follow, and sale? Here are the psychological principles used by digital influencers.

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Why do we take mental shortcuts?

What are heuristics.

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that can facilitate problem-solving and probability judgments. These strategies are generalizations, or rules-of-thumb, that reduce cognitive load. They can be effective for making immediate judgments, however, they often result in irrational or inaccurate conclusions.

Heuristics

Where this bias occurs

Debias your organization.

Most of us work & live in environments that aren’t optimized for solid decision-making. We work with organizations of all kinds to identify sources of cognitive bias & develop tailored solutions.

We use heuristics in all sorts of situations. One type of heuristic, the availability heuristic , often happens when we’re attempting to judge the frequency with which a certain event occurs. Say, for example, someone asked you whether more tornadoes occur in Kansas or Nebraska. Most of us can easily call to mind an example of a tornado in Kansas: the tornado that whisked Dorothy Gale off to Oz in Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz . Although it’s fictional, this example comes to us easily. On the other hand, most people have a lot of trouble calling to mind an example of a tornado in Nebraska. This leads us to believe that tornadoes are more common in Kansas than in Nebraska. However, the states actually report similar levels. 1

Individual effects

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

The thing about heuristics is that they aren’t always wrong. As generalizations, there are many situations where they can yield accurate predictions or result in good decision-making. However, even if the outcome is favorable, it was not achieved through logical means. When we use heuristics, we risk ignoring important information and overvaluing what is less relevant. There’s no guarantee that using  heuristics will work out and, even if it does, we’ll be making the decision for the wrong reason. Instead of basing it on reason, our behavior is resulting from a mental shortcut with no real rationale to support it.

Systemic effects

Heuristics become more concerning when applied to politics, academia, and economics. We may all resort to heuristics from time to time, something that is true even of members of important institutions who are tasked with making large, influential decisions. It is necessary for these figures to have a comprehensive understanding of the biases and heuristics that can affect our behavior, so as to promote accuracy on their part.

How it affects product

Heuristics can be useful in product design. Specifically, because heuristics are intuitive to us, they can be applied to create a more user-friendly experience and one that is more valuable to the customer. For example, color psychology is a phenomenon explaining how our experiences with different colors and color families can prime certain emotions or behaviors. Taking advantage of the representativeness heuristic, one could choose to use passive colors (blue or green) or more active colors (red, yellow, orange) depending on the goals of the application or product. 18 For example, if a developer is trying to evoke a feeling of calm for their app that provides guided meditations, they may choose to make the primary colors of the program light blues and greens. Colors like red and orange are more emotionally energizing and may be useful in settings like gyms or crossfit programs. 

By integrating heuristics into products we can enhance the user experience. If an application, device, or item includes features that make it feel intuitive, easy to navigate and familiar, customers will be more inclined to continue to use it and recommend it to others. Appealing to those mental shortcuts we can minimize the chances of user error or frustration with a product that is overly complicated.

Heuristics and AI

Artificial intelligence and machine learning tools already use the power of heuristics to inform its output. In a nutshell, simple AI tools operate based on a set of built in rules and sometimes heuristics! These are encoded within the system thus aiding in decision-making and the presentation of learning material. Heuristic algorithms can be used to solve advanced computational problems, providing efficient and approximate solutions.  Like in humans, the use of heuristics can result in error, and thus must be used with caution. However, machine learning tools and AI can be useful in supporting human decision-making, especially when clouded by emotion, bias or irrationality due to our own susceptibility to heuristics. 

Why it happens

In their paper “Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases” 2 , Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky identified three different kinds of heuristics: availability, representativeness, as well as anchoring and adjustment. Each type of heuristic is used for the purpose of reducing the mental effort needed to make a decision, but they occur in different contexts.

Availability heuristic

The availability heuristic, as defined by Kahneman and Tversky, is the mental shortcut used for making frequency or probability judgments based on “the ease with which instances or occurrences can be brought to mind”. 3 This was touched upon in the previous example, judging the frequency with which tornadoes occur in Kansas relative to Nebraska. 3

The availability heuristic occurs because certain memories come to mind more easily than others. In Kahneman and Tversky’s example participants were asked if more words in the English language start with the letter K or have K as the third letter  Interestingly, most participants responded with the former when in actuality, it is the latter that is true. The idea being that it is much more difficult to think of words that have K as the third letter than it is to think of words that start with K. 4 In this case,  words that begin with K are more readily available to us than words with the K as the third letter.

Representativeness heuristic

Individuals tend to classify events into categories, which, as illustrated by Kahneman and Tversky, can result in our use of the representativeness heuristic. When we use this heuristic, we categorize events or objects based on how they relate to instances we are already familiar with.  Essentially, we have built our own categories, which we use to make predictions about novel situations or people. 5 For example, if someone we meet in one of our university lectures looks and acts like what we believe to be a stereotypical medical student, we may judge the probability that they are studying medicine as highly likely, even without any hard evidence to support that assumption.

The representativeness heuristic is associated with prototype theory. 6 This prominent theory in cognitive science, the prototype theory explains object and identity recognition. It suggests that we categorize different objects and identities in our memory. For example, we may have a category for chairs, a category for fish, a category for books, and so on. Prototype theory posits that we develop prototypical examples for these categories by averaging every example of a given category we encounter. As such, our prototype of a chair should be the most average example of a chair possible, based on our experience with that object. This process aids in object identification because we compare every object we encounter against the prototypes stored in our memory. The more the object resembles the prototype, the more confident we are that it belongs in that category. 

Prototype theory may give rise to the representativeness heuristic as it is in situations when a particular object or event is viewed as similar to the prototype stored in our memory, which leads us to classify the object or event into the category represented by that prototype. To go back to the previous example, if your peer closely resembles your prototypical example of a med student, you may place them into that category based on the prototype theory of object and identity recognition. This, however, causes you to commit the representativeness heuristic.

Anchoring and adjustment heuristic

Another heuristic put forth by Kahneman and Tversky in their initial paper is the anchoring and adjustment heuristic. 7 This heuristic describes how, when estimating a certain value, we tend to give an initial value, then adjust it by increasing or decreasing our estimation. However, we often get stuck on that initial value – which is referred to as anchoring – this results in us making insufficient adjustments. Thus, the adjusted value is biased in favor of the initial value we have anchored to.

In an example of the anchoring and adjustment heuristic, Kahneman and Tversky gave participants questions such as “estimate the number of African countries in the United Nations (UN).” A wheel labeled with numbers from 0-100 was spun, and participants were asked to say whether or not the number the wheel landed on was higher or lower than their answer to the question. Then, participants were asked to estimate the number of African countries in the UN, independent from the number they had spun. Regardless, Kahneman and Tversky found that participants tended to anchor onto the random number obtained by spinning the wheel. The results showed that  when the number obtained by spinning the wheel was 10, the median estimate given by participants was 25, while, when the number obtained from the wheel was 65, participants’ median estimate was 45.8.

A 2006 study by Epley and Gilovich, “The Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic: Why the Adjustments are Insufficient” 9 investigated the causes of this heuristic. They illustrated that anchoring often occurs because the new information that we anchor to is more accessible than other information Furthermore, they provided empirical evidence to demonstrate that our adjustments tend to be insufficient because they require significant mental effort, which we are not always motivated to dedicate to the task. They also found that providing incentives for accuracy led participants to make more sufficient adjustments. So, this particular heuristic generally occurs when there is no real incentive to provide an accurate response.

Quick and easy

Though different in their explanations, these three types of heuristics allow us to respond automatically without much effortful thought. They provide an immediate response and do not use up much of our mental energy, which allows us to dedicate mental resources to other matters that may be more pressing. In that way, heuristics are efficient, which is a big reason why we continue to use them. That being said, we should be mindful of how much we rely on them because there is no guarantee of their accuracy.

Why it is important

As illustrated by Tversky and Kahneman, using heuristics can cause us to engage in various cognitive biases and commit certain fallacies. 10 As a result, we may make poor decisions, as well as inaccurate judgments and predictions. Awareness of heuristics can aid us in avoiding them, which will ultimately lead us to engage in more adaptive behaviors.

How to avoid it

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Heuristics arise from automatic System 1 thinking. It is a common misconception that errors in judgment can be avoided by relying exclusively on System 2 thinking. However, as pointed out by Kahneman, neither System 2 nor System 1 are infallible. 11   While System 1 can result in relying on heuristics leading to certain biases, System 2 can give rise to other biases, such as the confirmation bias . 12 In truth, Systems 1 and 2 complement each other, and using them together can lead to more rational decision-making. That is, we shouldn’t make judgments automatically, without a second thought, but we shouldn’t overthink things to the point where we’re looking for specific evidence to support our stance. Thus, heuristics can be avoided by making judgments more effortfully, but in doing so, we should attempt not to overanalyze the situation.

How it all started

The first three heuristics – availability, representativeness, as well as anchoring and adjustment – were identified by Tverksy and Kahneman in their 1974 paper, “Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases”. 13 In addition to presenting these heuristics and their relevant experiments, they listed the respective biases each can lead to.

For instance, upon defining the availability heuristic, they demonstrated how it may lead to illusory correlation , which is the erroneous belief that two events frequently co-occur. Kahneman and Tversky made the connection by illustrating how the availability heuristic can cause us to over- or under-estimate the frequency with which certain events occur. This may result in drawing correlations between variables when in reality there are none.  

Referring to our tendency to overestimate our accuracy making probability judgments, Kahneman and Tversky also discussed how the illusion of validity is facilitated by the representativeness heuristic. The more representative an object or event is, the more confident we feel in predicting certain outcomes. The illusion of validity, as it works with the representativeness heuristic, can be demonstrated by our assumptions of others based on past experiences. If you have only ever had good experiences with people from Canada, you will be inclined to judge most Canadians as pleasant. In reality, your small sample size cannot account for the whole population. Representativeness is not the only factor in determining the probability of an outcome or event, meaning we should not be as confident in our predictive abilities.

Example 1 – Advertising

Those in the field of advertising should have a working understanding of heuristics as consumers often rely on these shortcuts when making decisions about purchases. One heuristic that frequently comes into play in the realm of advertising is the scarcity heuristic . When assessing the value of something, we often fall back on this heuristic, leading us to believe that the rarity or exclusiveness of an object contributes to its value.

A 2011 study by Praveen Aggarwal, Sung Yul Jun, and Jong Ho Huh evaluated the impact of “scarcity messages” on consumer behavior. They found that both “limited quantity” and “limited time” advertisements influence consumers’ intentions to purchase, but “limited quantity” messages are more effective. This explains why people get so excited over the one-day-only Black Friday sales, and why the countdowns of units available on home shopping television frequently lead to impulse buys. 14

Knowledge of the scarcity heuristic can help businesses thrive, as “limited quantity” messages make potential consumers competitive and increase their intentions to purchase. 15 This marketing technique can be a useful tool for bolstering sales and bringing attention to your business.

Example 2 – Stereotypes

One of the downfalls of heuristics is that they have the potential to lead to stereotyping, which is often harmful. Kahneman and Tversky illustrated how the representativeness heuristic might result in the propagation of stereotypes. The researchers presented participants with a personality sketch of a fictional man named Steve followed by a list of possible occupations. Participants were tasked with ranking the likelihood of each occupation being Steve’s. Since the personality sketch described Steve as shy, helpful, introverted, and organized, participants tended to indicate that it was probable that he was a  librarian. 16 In this particular case the stereotype is less harmful than many others, however it accurately illustrates the link between heuristics and stereotypes.

Published in 1989, Patricia Devine’s paper “Stereotypes and Prejudice: Their Automatic and Controlled Components” illustrates how, even among people who are low in prejudice, rejecting stereotypes requires a certain level of motivation and cognitive capacity. 17 We typically use heuristics in order to avoid exerting too much mental energy, specifically when we are not sufficiently motivated to dedicate mental resources to the task at hand. Thus, when we lack the mental capacity to make a judgment or decision effortfully, we may rely upon automatic heuristic responses and, in doing so, risk propagating stereotypes.

Stereotypes are an example of how heuristics can go wrong. Broad generalizations do not always apply, and their continued use can have serious consequences. This underscores the importance of effortful judgment and decision-making, as opposed to automatic.

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that allow us to make quick judgment calls based on generalizations or rules of thumb.

Heuristics, in general, occur because they are efficient ways of responding when we are faced with problems or decisions. They come about automatically, allowing us to allocate our mental energy elsewhere. Specific heuristics occur in different contexts; the availability heuristic happens because we remember certain memories better than others, the representativeness heuristic can be explained by prototype theory, and the anchoring and adjustment heuristic occurs due to lack of incentive to put in the effort required for sufficient adjustment.

The scarcity heuristic, which refers to how we value items more when they are limited, can be used to the advantage of businesses looking to increase sales. Research has shown that advertising objects as “limited quantity” increases consumers' competitiveness and their intentions to buy the item.

While heuristics can be useful, we should exert caution, as they are generalizations that may lead us to propagate stereotypes ranging from inaccurate to harmful.

Putting more effort into decision-making instead of making decisions automatically can help us avoid heuristics. Doing so requires more mental resources, but it will lead to more rational choices.

Related TDL articles

What are heuristics.

This interview with The Decision Lab’s Managing Director Sekoul Krastev delves into the history of heuristics, their applications in the real world, and their consequences, both positive and negative.

10 Decision-Making Errors that Hold Us Back at Work

In this article, Dr. Melina Moleskis examines the common decision-making errors that occur in the workplace. Everything from taking in feedback provided by customers to cracking the problems of on-the-fly decision-making, Dr. Moleskis delivers workable solutions that anyone can implement. 

  • Gilovich, T., Keltner, D., Chen. S, and Nisbett, R. (2015).  Social Psychology  (4th edition). W.W. Norton and Co. Inc.
  • Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.  Science . 185(4157), 1124-1131.
  • Mervis, C. B., & Rosch, E. (1981). Categorization of natural objects.  Annual Review of Psychology ,  32 (1), 89–115. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.ps.32.020181.000513
  • Epley, N., & Gilovich, T. (2006). The anchoring-and-adjustment heuristic.  Psychological Science -Cambridge- ,  17 (4), 311–318.
  • System 1 and System 2 Thinking.  The Marketing Society.  https://www.marketingsociety.com/think-piece/system-1-and-system-2-thinking
  • Aggarwal, P., Jun, S. Y., & Huh, J. H. (2011). Scarcity messages.  Journal of Advertising ,  40 (3), 19–30.
  • Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: their automatic and controlled components.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology ,  56 (1), 5–18. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.56.1.5
  • Kuo, L., Chang, T., &amp; Lai, C.-C. (2022). Research on product design modeling image and color psychological test. Displays, 71, 102108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.displa.2021.102108

About the Authors

Dan Pilat's portrait

Dan is a Co-Founder and Managing Director at The Decision Lab. He is a bestselling author of Intention - a book he wrote with Wiley on the mindful application of behavioral science in organizations. Dan has a background in organizational decision making, with a BComm in Decision & Information Systems from McGill University. He has worked on enterprise-level behavioral architecture at TD Securities and BMO Capital Markets, where he advised management on the implementation of systems processing billions of dollars per week. Driven by an appetite for the latest in technology, Dan created a course on business intelligence and lectured at McGill University, and has applied behavioral science to topics such as augmented and virtual reality.

Sekoul Krastev's portrait

Dr. Sekoul Krastev

Sekoul is a Co-Founder and Managing Director at The Decision Lab. He is a bestselling author of Intention - a book he wrote with Wiley on the mindful application of behavioral science in organizations. A decision scientist with a PhD in Decision Neuroscience from McGill University, Sekoul's work has been featured in peer-reviewed journals and has been presented at conferences around the world. Sekoul previously advised management on innovation and engagement strategy at The Boston Consulting Group as well as on online media strategy at Google. He has a deep interest in the applications of behavioral science to new technology and has published on these topics in places such as the Huffington Post and Strategy & Business.

Hindsight Bias

Why do unpredictable events only seem predictable after they occur, hot hand fallacy, why do we expect previous success to lead to future success, hyperbolic discounting, why do we value immediate rewards more than long-term rewards.

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Thinking and Intelligence

Problem Solving

OpenStaxCollege

[latexpage]

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe problem solving strategies
  • Define algorithm and heuristic
  • Explain some common roadblocks to effective problem solving

People face problems every day—usually, multiple problems throughout the day. Sometimes these problems are straightforward: To double a recipe for pizza dough, for example, all that is required is that each ingredient in the recipe be doubled. Sometimes, however, the problems we encounter are more complex. For example, say you have a work deadline, and you must mail a printed copy of a report to your supervisor by the end of the business day. The report is time-sensitive and must be sent overnight. You finished the report last night, but your printer will not work today. What should you do? First, you need to identify the problem and then apply a strategy for solving the problem.

PROBLEM-SOLVING STRATEGIES

When you are presented with a problem—whether it is a complex mathematical problem or a broken printer, how do you solve it? Before finding a solution to the problem, the problem must first be clearly identified. After that, one of many problem solving strategies can be applied, hopefully resulting in a solution.

A problem-solving strategy is a plan of action used to find a solution. Different strategies have different action plans associated with them ( [link] ). For example, a well-known strategy is trial and error . The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” describes trial and error. In terms of your broken printer, you could try checking the ink levels, and if that doesn’t work, you could check to make sure the paper tray isn’t jammed. Or maybe the printer isn’t actually connected to your laptop. When using trial and error, you would continue to try different solutions until you solved your problem. Although trial and error is not typically one of the most time-efficient strategies, it is a commonly used one.

Another type of strategy is an algorithm. An algorithm is a problem-solving formula that provides you with step-by-step instructions used to achieve a desired outcome (Kahneman, 2011). You can think of an algorithm as a recipe with highly detailed instructions that produce the same result every time they are performed. Algorithms are used frequently in our everyday lives, especially in computer science. When you run a search on the Internet, search engines like Google use algorithms to decide which entries will appear first in your list of results. Facebook also uses algorithms to decide which posts to display on your newsfeed. Can you identify other situations in which algorithms are used?

A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A “rule of thumb” is an example of a heuristic. Such a rule saves the person time and energy when making a decision, but despite its time-saving characteristics, it is not always the best method for making a rational decision. Different types of heuristics are used in different types of situations, but the impulse to use a heuristic occurs when one of five conditions is met (Pratkanis, 1989):

  • When one is faced with too much information
  • When the time to make a decision is limited
  • When the decision to be made is unimportant
  • When there is access to very little information to use in making the decision
  • When an appropriate heuristic happens to come to mind in the same moment

Working backwards is a useful heuristic in which you begin solving the problem by focusing on the end result. Consider this example: You live in Washington, D.C. and have been invited to a wedding at 4 PM on Saturday in Philadelphia. Knowing that Interstate 95 tends to back up any day of the week, you need to plan your route and time your departure accordingly. If you want to be at the wedding service by 3:30 PM, and it takes 2.5 hours to get to Philadelphia without traffic, what time should you leave your house? You use the working backwards heuristic to plan the events of your day on a regular basis, probably without even thinking about it.

Another useful heuristic is the practice of accomplishing a large goal or task by breaking it into a series of smaller steps. Students often use this common method to complete a large research project or long essay for school. For example, students typically brainstorm, develop a thesis or main topic, research the chosen topic, organize their information into an outline, write a rough draft, revise and edit the rough draft, develop a final draft, organize the references list, and proofread their work before turning in the project. The large task becomes less overwhelming when it is broken down into a series of small steps.

Problem-solving abilities can improve with practice. Many people challenge themselves every day with puzzles and other mental exercises to sharpen their problem-solving skills. Sudoku puzzles appear daily in most newspapers. Typically, a sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid. The simple sudoku below ( [link] ) is a 4×4 grid. To solve the puzzle, fill in the empty boxes with a single digit: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Here are the rules: The numbers must total 10 in each bolded box, each row, and each column; however, each digit can only appear once in a bolded box, row, and column. Time yourself as you solve this puzzle and compare 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.

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:

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

Take a look at the “Puzzling Scales” logic puzzle below ( [link] ). Sam Loyd, a well-known puzzle master, created and refined countless puzzles throughout 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?”

PITFALLS TO PROBLEM SOLVING

Not all problems are successfully solved, however. What challenges stop us from successfully solving a problem? Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Imagine a person in a room that has four doorways. 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. The astronauts were in danger of being poisoned by rising levels of carbon dioxide because of problems with the carbon dioxide filters. The engineers found a way for the astronauts to use spare plastic bags, tape, and air hoses to create a makeshift air filter, which saved the lives of the astronauts.

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Check out this Apollo 13 scene where the group of NASA engineers are given the task of overcoming functional fixedness.

Researchers have investigated whether functional fixedness is affected by culture. In one experiment, individuals from the Shuar group in Ecuador were asked to use an object for a purpose other than that for which the object was originally intended. For example, the participants were told a story about a bear and a rabbit that were separated by a river and asked to select among various objects, including a spoon, a cup, erasers, and so on, to help the animals. The spoon was the only object long enough to span the imaginary river, but if the spoon was presented in a way that reflected its normal usage, it took participants longer to choose the spoon to solve the problem. (German & Barrett, 2005). The researchers wanted to know if exposure to highly specialized tools, as occurs with individuals in industrialized nations, affects their ability to transcend functional fixedness. It was determined that functional fixedness is experienced in both industrialized and nonindustrialized cultures (German & Barrett, 2005).

In order to make good decisions, we use our knowledge and our reasoning. Often, this knowledge and reasoning is sound and solid. Sometimes, however, we are swayed by biases or by others manipulating a situation. For example, let’s say you and three friends wanted to rent a house and had a combined target budget of $1,600. The realtor shows you only very run-down houses for $1,600 and then shows you a very nice house for $2,000. Might you ask each person to pay more in rent to get the $2,000 home? Why would the realtor show you the run-down houses and the nice house? The realtor may be challenging your anchoring bias. An anchoring bias occurs when you focus on one piece of information when making a decision or solving a problem. In this case, you’re so focused on the amount of money you are willing to spend that you may not recognize what kinds of houses are available at that price point.

The confirmation bias is the tendency to focus on information that confirms your existing beliefs. For example, if you think that your professor is not very nice, you notice all of the instances of rude behavior exhibited by the professor while ignoring the countless pleasant interactions he is involved in on a daily basis. Hindsight bias leads you to believe that the event you just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t. In other words, you knew all along that things would turn out the way they did. Representative bias describes a faulty way of thinking, in which you unintentionally stereotype someone or something; for example, you may assume that your professors spend their free time reading books and engaging in intellectual conversation, because the idea of them spending their time playing volleyball or visiting an amusement park does not fit in with your stereotypes of professors.

Finally, the availability heuristic is a heuristic in which you make a decision based on an example, information, or recent experience that is that readily available to you, even though it may not be the best example to inform your decision . Biases tend to “preserve that which is already established—to maintain our preexisting knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and hypotheses” (Aronson, 1995; Kahneman, 2011). These biases are summarized in [link] .

Please visit this site to see a clever music video that a high school teacher made to explain these and other cognitive biases to his AP psychology students.

Were you able to determine how many marbles are needed to balance the scales in [link] ? You need nine. Were you able to solve the problems in [link] and [link] ? Here are the answers ( [link] ).

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 different strategies exist for solving problems. Typical strategies include trial and error, applying algorithms, and using heuristics. To solve a large, complicated problem, it often helps to break the problem into smaller steps that can be accomplished individually, leading to an overall solution. Roadblocks to problem solving include a mental set, functional fixedness, and various biases that can cloud decision making skills.

Review Questions

A specific formula for solving a problem is called ________.

  • an algorithm
  • a heuristic
  • a mental set
  • trial and error

A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called ________.

Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem?

  • anchoring bias
  • confirmation bias
  • representative bias
  • availability bias

Which type of bias involves relying on a false stereotype to make a decision?

Critical Thinking Questions

What is functional fixedness and how can overcoming it help you solve problems?

Functional fixedness occurs when you cannot see a use for an object other than the use for which it was intended. For example, if you need something to hold up a tarp in the rain, but only have a pitchfork, you must overcome your expectation that a pitchfork can only be used for garden chores before you realize that you could stick it in the ground and drape the tarp on top of it to hold it up.

How does an algorithm save you time and energy when solving a problem?

An algorithm is a proven formula for achieving a desired outcome. It saves time because if you follow it exactly, you will solve the problem without having to figure out how to solve the problem. It is a bit like not reinventing the wheel.

Personal Application Question

Which type of bias do you recognize in your own decision making processes? How has this bias affected how you’ve made decisions in the past and how can you use your awareness of it to improve your decisions making skills in the future?

Problem Solving Copyright © 2014 by OpenStaxCollege is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • 2 - PROBLEM-SOLVING STRATEGIES
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Review Questions

A specific formula for solving a problem is called ________.

  • an algorithm
  • a heuristic
  • a mental set
  • trial and error

A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called ________.

Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem?

  • anchoring bias
  • confirmation bias
  • representative bias
  • availability bias

Which type of bias involves relying on a false stereotype to make a decision?

BUS610: Business Intelligence and Analytics

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Problem Solving, Thinking, and Intelligence

The article describes a few common biases that are important to be aware of. Go through the brief quiz at the end and see how you do. If you miss any questions, go back and re-read that section. Think about how you might apply the concepts in that section so that the ideas will make sense and stick with you. Work through the "Personal Application Question:" Which types of bias do you recognize in your decision-making processes? How has this bias affected how you've made decisions in the past, and how can you use your awareness of it to improve your decisions making skills in the future?

Consider a specific time when you showed bias in coming to a conclusion about a person or event. How did you realize your thinking process was biased? How can you use this knowledge to avoid making this type of biased decision in the future?

Review Questions

A specific formula for solving a problem is called ________.

  • an algorithm
  • a heuristic
  • a mental set
  • trial and error

A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called ________.

Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem?

  • anchoring bias
  • confirmation bias
  • representative bias
  • availability bias

Which type of bias involves relying on a false stereotype to make a decision?

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44 Language and Problem Solving

Learning outcomes.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define language and demonstrate familiarity with the components of language
  • Understand how the use of language develops
  • Explain the relationship between language and thinking
  • Describe problem solving strategies
  • Define algorithm and heuristic
  • Explain some common roadblocks to effective problem solving

Language  is a communication system that involves using words and systematic rules to organize those words to transmit information from one individual to another. While language is a form of communication, not all communication is language. Many species communicate with one another through their postures, movements, odors, or vocalizations. This communication is crucial for species that need to interact and develop social relationships with their conspecifics. However, many people have asserted that it is language that makes humans unique among all of the animal species (Corballis & Suddendorf, 2007; Tomasello & Rakoczy, 2003). This section will focus on what distinguishes language as a special form of communication, how the use of language develops, and how language affects the way we think.

COMPONENTS OF LANGUAGE

Language, be it spoken, signed, or written, has specific components: a lexicon and grammar.  Lexicon  refers to the words of a given language. Thus, lexicon is a language’s vocabulary.  Grammar  refers to the set of rules that are used to convey meaning through the use of the lexicon (Fernández & Cairns, 2011). For instance, English grammar dictates that most verbs receive an “-ed” at the end to indicate past tense.

Words are formed by combining the various phonemes that make up the language. A  phoneme  (e.g., the sounds “ah” vs. “eh”) is a basic sound unit of a given language, and different languages have different sets of phonemes. Phonemes are combined to form  morphemes , which are the smallest units of language that convey some type of meaning (e.g., “I” is both a phoneme and a morpheme). We use semantics and syntax to construct language. Semantics and syntax are part of a language’s grammar.  Semantics  refers to the process by which we derive meaning from morphemes and words.  Syntax  refers to the way words are organized into sentences (Chomsky, 1965; Fernández & Cairns, 2011).

We apply the rules of grammar to organize the lexicon in novel and creative ways, which allow us to communicate information about both concrete and abstract concepts. We can talk about our immediate and observable surroundings as well as the surface of unseen planets. We can share our innermost thoughts, our plans for the future, and debate the value of a college education. We can provide detailed instructions for cooking a meal, fixing a car, or building a fire. The flexibility that language provides to relay vastly different types of information is a property that makes language so distinct as a mode of communication among humans.

LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT

Given the remarkable complexity of a language, one might expect that mastering a language would be an especially arduous task; indeed, for those of us trying to learn a second language as adults, this might seem to be true. However, young children master language very quickly with relative ease. B. F.  Skinner  (1957) proposed that language is learned through reinforcement. Noam  Chomsky  (1965) criticized this behaviorist approach, asserting instead that the mechanisms underlying language acquisition are biologically determined. The use of language develops in the absence of formal instruction and appears to follow a very similar pattern in children from vastly different cultures and backgrounds. It would seem, therefore, that we are born with a biological predisposition to acquire a language (Chomsky, 1965; Fernández & Cairns, 2011). Moreover, it appears that there is a critical period for language acquisition, such that this proficiency at acquiring language is maximal early in life; generally, as people age, the ease with which they acquire and master new languages diminishes (Johnson & Newport, 1989; Lenneberg, 1967; Singleton, 1995).

Children begin to learn about language from a very early age ( Table ). In fact, it appears that this is occurring even before we are born. Newborns show preference for their mother’s voice and appear to be able to discriminate between the language spoken by their mother and other languages. Babies are also attuned to the languages being used around them and show preferences for videos of faces that are moving in synchrony with the audio of spoken language versus videos that do not synchronize with the audio (Blossom & Morgan, 2006; Pickens, 1994; Spelke & Cortelyou, 1981).

In the fall of 1970, a social worker in the Los Angeles area found a 13-year-old girl who was being raised in extremely neglectful and abusive conditions. The girl, who came to be known as Genie, had lived most of her life tied to a potty chair or confined to a crib in a small room that was kept closed with the curtains drawn. For a little over a decade, Genie had virtually no social interaction and no access to the outside world. As a result of these conditions, Genie was unable to stand up, chew solid food, or speak (Fromkin, Krashen, Curtiss, Rigler, & Rigler, 1974; Rymer, 1993). The police took Genie into protective custody.

Genie’s abilities improved dramatically following her removal from her abusive environment, and early on, it appeared she was acquiring language—much later than would be predicted by critical period hypotheses that had been posited at the time (Fromkin et al., 1974). Genie managed to amass an impressive vocabulary in a relatively short amount of time. However, she never developed a mastery of the grammatical aspects of language (Curtiss, 1981). Perhaps being deprived of the opportunity to learn language during a critical period impeded Genie’s ability to fully acquire and use language.

You may recall that each language has its own set of phonemes that are used to generate morphemes, words, and so on. Babies can discriminate among the sounds that make up a language (for example, they can tell the difference between the “s” in vision and the “ss” in fission); early on, they can differentiate between the sounds of all human languages, even those that do not occur in the languages that are used in their environments. However, by the time that they are about 1 year old, they can only discriminate among those phonemes that are used in the language or languages in their environments (Jensen, 2011; Werker & Lalonde, 1988; Werker & Tees, 1984).

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Visit this  website  to learn more about how babies lose the ability to discriminate among all possible human phonemes as they age.

After the first few months of life, babies enter what is known as the babbling stage, during which time they tend to produce single syllables that are repeated over and over. As time passes, more variations appear in the syllables that they produce. During this time, it is unlikely that the babies are trying to communicate; they are just as likely to babble when they are alone as when they are with their caregivers (Fernández & Cairns, 2011). Interestingly, babies who are raised in environments in which sign language is used will also begin to show babbling in the gestures of their hands during this stage (Petitto, Holowka, Sergio, Levy, & Ostry, 2004).

Generally, a child’s first word is uttered sometime between the ages of 1 year to 18 months, and for the next few months, the child will remain in the “one word” stage of language development. During this time, children know a number of words, but they only produce one-word utterances. The child’s early vocabulary is limited to familiar objects or events, often nouns. Although children in this stage only make one-word utterances, these words often carry larger meaning (Fernández & Cairns, 2011). So, for example, a child saying “cookie” could be identifying a cookie or asking for a cookie.

As a child’s lexicon grows, she begins to utter simple sentences and to acquire new vocabulary at a very rapid pace. In addition, children begin to demonstrate a clear understanding of the specific rules that apply to their language(s). Even the mistakes that children sometimes make provide evidence of just how much they understand about those rules. This is sometimes seen in the form of  overgeneralization . In this context, overgeneralization refers to an extension of a language rule to an exception to the rule. For example, in English, it is usually the case that an “s” is added to the end of a word to indicate plurality. For example, we speak of one dog versus two dogs. Young children will overgeneralize this rule to cases that are exceptions to the “add an s to the end of the word” rule and say things like “those two gooses” or “three mouses.” Clearly, the rules of the language are understood, even if the exceptions to the rules are still being learned (Moskowitz, 1978).

LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT

When we speak one language, we agree that words are representations of ideas, people, places, and events. The given language that children learn is connected to their culture and surroundings. But can words themselves shape the way we think about things? Psychologists have long investigated the question of whether language shapes thoughts and actions, or whether our thoughts and beliefs shape our language. Two researchers, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, began this investigation in the 1940s. They wanted to understand how the language habits of a community encourage members of that community to interpret language in a particular manner (Sapir, 1941/1964). Sapir and Whorf proposed that language determines thought, suggesting, for example, that a person whose community language did not have past-tense verbs would be challenged to think about the past (Whorf, 1956). Researchers have since identified this view as too absolute, pointing out a lack of empiricism behind what Sapir and Whorf proposed (Abler, 2013; Boroditsky, 2011; van Troyer, 1994). Today, psychologists continue to study and debate the relationship between language and thought.

Think about what you know of other languages; perhaps you even speak multiple languages. Imagine for a moment that your closest friend fluently speaks more than one language. Do you think that friend thinks differently, depending on which language is being spoken? You may know a few words that are not translatable from their original language into English. For example, the Portuguese word  saudade  originated during the 15th century, when Portuguese sailors left home to explore the seas and travel to Africa or Asia. Those left behind described the emptiness and fondness they felt as  saudade  ( Figure ) .  The word came to express many meanings, including loss, nostalgia, yearning, warm memories, and hope. There is no single word in English that includes all of those emotions in a single description. Do words such as  saudade  indicate that different languages produce different patterns of thought in people? What do you think??

Photograph A shows a painting of a person leaning against a ledge, slumped sideways over a box. Photograph B shows a painting of a person reading by a window.

Language may indeed influence the way that we think, an idea known as linguistic determinism. One recent demonstration of this phenomenon involved differences in the way that English and Mandarin Chinese speakers talk and think about time. English speakers tend to talk about time using terms that describe changes along a horizontal dimension, for example, saying something like “I’m running behind schedule” or “Don’t get ahead of yourself.” While Mandarin Chinese speakers also describe time in horizontal terms, it is not uncommon to also use terms associated with a vertical arrangement. For example, the past might be described as being “up” and the future as being “down.” It turns out that these differences in language translate into differences in performance on cognitive tests designed to measure how quickly an individual can recognize temporal relationships. Specifically, when given a series of tasks with vertical priming, Mandarin Chinese speakers were faster at recognizing temporal relationships between months. Indeed, Boroditsky (2001) sees these results as suggesting that “habits in language encourage habits in thought” (p. 12).

One group of researchers who wanted to investigate how language influences thought compared how English speakers and the Dani people of Papua New Guinea think and speak about color. The Dani have two words for color: one word for  light  and one word for  dark . In contrast, the English language has 11 color words. Researchers hypothesized that the number of color terms could limit the ways that the Dani people conceptualized color. However, the Dani were able to distinguish colors with the same ability as English speakers, despite having fewer words at their disposal (Berlin & Kay, 1969). A recent review of research aimed at determining how language might affect something like color perception suggests that language can influence perceptual phenomena, especially in the left hemisphere of the brain. You may recall from earlier chapters that the left hemisphere is associated with language for most people. However, the right (less linguistic hemisphere) of the brain is less affected by linguistic influences on perception (Regier & Kay, 2009)

Language is a communication system that has both a lexicon and a system of grammar. Language acquisition occurs naturally and effortlessly during the early stages of life, and this acquisition occurs in a predictable sequence for individuals around the world. Language has a strong influence on thought, and the concept of how language may influence cognition remains an area of study and debate in psychology.

Review Questions

________ provides general principles for organizing words into meaningful sentences.

  • Linguistic determinism

________ are the smallest unit of language that carry meaning.

The meaning of words and phrases is determined by applying the rules of ________.

  • overgeneralization

________ is (are) the basic sound units of a spoken language.

Critical Thinking Questions

How do words not only represent our thoughts but also represent our values?

How could grammatical errors actually be indicative of language acquisition in children?

Personal Application Question

Can you think of examples of how language affects cognition?

Problem Solving

People face problems every day—usually, multiple problems throughout the day. Sometimes these problems are straightforward: To double a recipe for pizza dough, for example, all that is required is that each ingredient in the recipe be doubled. Sometimes, however, the problems we encounter are more complex. For example, say you have a work deadline, and you must mail a printed copy of a report to your supervisor by the end of the business day. The report is time-sensitive and must be sent overnight. You finished the report last night, but your printer will not work today. What should you do? First, you need to identify the problem and then apply a strategy for solving the problem.

PROBLEM-SOLVING STRATEGIES

When you are presented with a problem—whether it is a complex mathematical problem or a broken printer, how do you solve it? Before finding a solution to the problem, the problem must first be clearly identified. After that, one of many problem solving strategies can be applied, hopefully resulting in a solution.

A  problem-solving strategy  is a plan of action used to find a solution. Different strategies have different action plans associated with them ( Table ). For example, a well-known strategy is  trial and error . The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” describes trial and error. In terms of your broken printer, you could try checking the ink levels, and if that doesn’t work, you could check to make sure the paper tray isn’t jammed. Or maybe the printer isn’t actually connected to your laptop. When using trial and error, you would continue to try different solutions until you solved your problem. Although trial and error is not typically one of the most time-efficient strategies, it is a commonly used one.

Another type of strategy is an algorithm. An  algorithm  is a problem-solving formula that provides you with step-by-step instructions used to achieve a desired outcome (Kahneman, 2011). You can think of an algorithm as a recipe with highly detailed instructions that produce the same result every time they are performed. Algorithms are used frequently in our everyday lives, especially in computer science. When you run a search on the Internet, search engines like Google use algorithms to decide which entries will appear first in your list of results. Facebook also uses algorithms to decide which posts to display on your newsfeed. Can you identify other situations in which algorithms are used?

A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a  heuristic  is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A “rule of thumb” is an example of a heuristic. Such a rule saves the person time and energy when making a decision, but despite its time-saving characteristics, it is not always the best method for making a rational decision. Different types of heuristics are used in different types of situations, but the impulse to use a heuristic occurs when one of five conditions is met (Pratkanis, 1989):

  • When one is faced with too much information
  • When the time to make a decision is limited
  • When the decision to be made is unimportant
  • When there is access to very little information to use in making the decision
  • When an appropriate heuristic happens to come to mind in the same moment

Working backwards  is a useful heuristic in which you begin solving the problem by focusing on the end result. Consider this example: You live in Washington, D.C. and have been invited to a wedding at 4 PM on Saturday in Philadelphia. Knowing that Interstate 95 tends to back up any day of the week, you need to plan your route and time your departure accordingly. If you want to be at the wedding service by 3:30 PM, and it takes 2.5 hours to get to Philadelphia without traffic, what time should you leave your house? You use the working backwards heuristic to plan the events of your day on a regular basis, probably without even thinking about it.

Another useful heuristic is the practice of accomplishing a large goal or task by breaking it into a series of smaller steps. Students often use this common method to complete a large research project or long essay for school. For example, students typically brainstorm, develop a thesis or main topic, research the chosen topic, organize their information into an outline, write a rough draft, revise and edit the rough draft, develop a final draft, organize the references list, and proofread their work before turning in the project. The large task becomes less overwhelming when it is broken down into a series of small steps.

Problem-solving abilities can improve with practice. Many people challenge themselves every day with puzzles and other mental exercises to sharpen their problem-solving skills. Sudoku puzzles appear daily in most newspapers. Typically, a sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid. The simple sudoku below ( Figure ) is a 4×4 grid. To solve the puzzle, fill in the empty boxes with a single digit: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Here are the rules: The numbers must total 10 in each bolded box, each row, and each column; however, each digit can only appear once in a bolded box, row, and column. Time yourself as you solve this puzzle and compare 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.

Here is another popular type of puzzle ( Figure ) that challenges your spatial reasoning skills. Connect all nine dots with four connecting straight lines without lifting your pencil from the paper:

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

Take a look at the “Puzzling Scales” logic puzzle below ( Figure ). Sam Loyd, a well-known puzzle master, created and refined countless puzzles throughout 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?”

PITFALLS TO PROBLEM SOLVING

Not all problems are successfully solved, however. What challenges stop us from successfully solving a problem? Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Imagine a person in a room that has four doorways. 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. The astronauts were in danger of being poisoned by rising levels of carbon dioxide because of problems with the carbon dioxide filters. The engineers found a way for the astronauts to use spare plastic bags, tape, and air hoses to create a makeshift air filter, which saved the lives of the astronauts.

Check out this  Apollo 13  scene  where the group of NASA engineers are given the task of overcoming functional fixedness.

Researchers have investigated whether functional fixedness is affected by culture. In one experiment, individuals from the Shuar group in Ecuador were asked to use an object for a purpose other than that for which the object was originally intended. For example, the participants were told a story about a bear and a rabbit that were separated by a river and asked to select among various objects, including a spoon, a cup, erasers, and so on, to help the animals. The spoon was the only object long enough to span the imaginary river, but if the spoon was presented in a way that reflected its normal usage, it took participants longer to choose the spoon to solve the problem. (German & Barrett, 2005). The researchers wanted to know if exposure to highly specialized tools, as occurs with individuals in industrialized nations, affects their ability to transcend functional fixedness. It was determined that functional fixedness is experienced in both industrialized and nonindustrialized cultures (German & Barrett, 2005).

In order to make good decisions, we use our knowledge and our reasoning. Often, this knowledge and reasoning is sound and solid. Sometimes, however, we are swayed by biases or by others manipulating a situation. For example, let’s say you and three friends wanted to rent a house and had a combined target budget of $1,600. The realtor shows you only very run-down houses for $1,600 and then shows you a very nice house for $2,000. Might you ask each person to pay more in rent to get the $2,000 home? Why would the realtor show you the run-down houses and the nice house? The realtor may be challenging your anchoring bias. An  anchoring bias  occurs when you focus on one piece of information when making a decision or solving a problem. In this case, you’re so focused on the amount of money you are willing to spend that you may not recognize what kinds of houses are available at that price point.

The  confirmation bias  is the tendency to focus on information that confirms your existing beliefs. For example, if you think that your professor is not very nice, you notice all of the instances of rude behavior exhibited by the professor while ignoring the countless pleasant interactions he is involved in on a daily basis.  Hindsight bias  leads you to believe that the event you just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t. In other words, you knew all along that things would turn out the way they did.  Representative bias  describes a faulty way of thinking, in which you unintentionally stereotype someone or something; for example, you may assume that your professors spend their free time reading books and engaging in intellectual conversation, because the idea of them spending their time playing volleyball or visiting an amusement park does not fit in with your stereotypes of professors.

Finally, the  availability heuristic  is a heuristic in which you make a decision based on an example, information, or recent experience that is that readily available to you, even though it may not be the best example to inform your decision .  Biases tend to “preserve that which is already established—to maintain our preexisting knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and hypotheses” (Aronson, 1995; Kahneman, 2011). These biases are summarized in  Table .

Please visit this  site  to see a clever music video that a high school teacher made to explain these and other cognitive biases to his AP psychology students.

Were you able to determine how many marbles are needed to balance the scales in  Figure ? You need nine. Were you able to solve the problems in  Figure  and  Figure ? Here are the answers ( Figure ).

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 different strategies exist for solving problems. Typical strategies include trial and error, applying algorithms, and using heuristics. To solve a large, complicated problem, it often helps to break the problem into smaller steps that can be accomplished individually, leading to an overall solution. Roadblocks to problem solving include a mental set, functional fixedness, and various biases that can cloud decision making skills.

A specific formula for solving a problem is called ________.

  • an algorithm
  • a heuristic
  • a mental set
  • trial and error

A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called ________.

Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem?

  • anchoring bias
  • confirmation bias
  • representative bias
  • availability bias

Which type of bias involves relying on a false stereotype to make a decision?

What is functional fixedness and how can overcoming it help you solve problems?

How does an algorithm save you time and energy when solving a problem?

Which type of bias do you recognize in your own decision making processes? How has this bias affected how you’ve made decisions in the past and how can you use your awareness of it to improve your decisions making skills in the future?

[glossary-page] [glossary-term]algorithm:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]problem-solving strategy characterized by a specific set of instructions[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]anchoring bias:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]faulty heuristic in which you fixate on a single aspect of a problem to find a solution[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]availability heuristic:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]faulty heuristic in which you make a decision based on information readily available to you[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]confirmation bias:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]faulty heuristic in which you focus on information that confirms your beliefs[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]functional fixedness:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]inability to see an object as useful for any other use other than the one for which it was intended[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]grammar:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]set of rules that are used to convey meaning through the use of a lexicon[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]heuristic:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]mental shortcut that saves time when solving a problem[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]hindsight bias:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]belief that the event just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]language:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]communication system that involves using words to transmit information from one individual to another[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]lexicon:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]the words of a given language[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]mental set:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]continually using an old solution to a problem without results[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]morpheme:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]smallest unit of language that conveys some type of meaning[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]overgeneralization:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]extension of a rule that exists in a given language to an exception to the rule[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]phoneme:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]basic sound unit of a given language[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]problem-solving strategy:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]method for solving problems[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]representative bias:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]faulty heuristic in which you stereotype someone or something without a valid basis for your judgment[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]semantics:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]process by which we derive meaning from morphemes and words[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]syntax:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]manner by which words are organized into sentences[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]trial and error:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]problem-solving strategy in which multiple solutions are attempted until the correct one is found[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]working backwards:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]heuristic in which you begin to solve a problem by focusing on the end result[/glossary-definition] [/glossary-page]

General Psychology Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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6.6: Language and Problem Solving

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Learning outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define language and demonstrate familiarity with the components of language
  • Understand how the use of language develops
  • Explain the relationship between language and thinking
  • Describe problem solving strategies
  • Define algorithm and heuristic
  • Explain some common roadblocks to effective problem solving

Language is a communication system that involves using words and systematic rules to organize those words to transmit information from one individual to another. While language is a form of communication, not all communication is language. Many species communicate with one another through their postures, movements, odors, or vocalizations. This communication is crucial for species that need to interact and develop social relationships with their conspecifics. However, many people have asserted that it is language that makes humans unique among all of the animal species (Corballis & Suddendorf, 2007; Tomasello & Rakoczy, 2003). This section will focus on what distinguishes language as a special form of communication, how the use of language develops, and how language affects the way we think.

COMPONENTS OF LANGUAGE

Language, be it spoken, signed, or written, has specific components: a lexicon and grammar. Lexicon refers to the words of a given language. Thus, lexicon is a language’s vocabulary. Grammar refers to the set of rules that are used to convey meaning through the use of the lexicon (Fernández & Cairns, 2011). For instance, English grammar dictates that most verbs receive an “-ed” at the end to indicate past tense.

Words are formed by combining the various phonemes that make up the language. A phoneme (e.g., the sounds “ah” vs. “eh”) is a basic sound unit of a given language, and different languages have different sets of phonemes. Phonemes are combined to form morphemes, which are the smallest units of language that convey some type of meaning (e.g., “I” is both a phoneme and a morpheme). We use semantics and syntax to construct language. Semantics and syntax are part of a language’s grammar. Semantics refers to the process by which we derive meaning from morphemes and words. Syntax refers to the way words are organized into sentences (Chomsky, 1965; Fernández & Cairns, 2011).

We apply the rules of grammar to organize the lexicon in novel and creative ways, which allow us to communicate information about both concrete and abstract concepts. We can talk about our immediate and observable surroundings as well as the surface of unseen planets. We can share our innermost thoughts, our plans for the future, and debate the value of a college education. We can provide detailed instructions for cooking a meal, fixing a car, or building a fire. The flexibility that language provides to relay vastly different types of information is a property that makes language so distinct as a mode of communication among humans.

LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT

Given the remarkable complexity of a language, one might expect that mastering a language would be an especially arduous task; indeed, for those of us trying to learn a second language as adults, this might seem to be true. However, young children master language very quickly with relative ease. B. F.  Skinner  (1957) proposed that language is learned through reinforcement. Noam  Chomsky  (1965) criticized this behaviorist approach, asserting instead that the mechanisms underlying language acquisition are biologically determined. The use of language develops in the absence of formal instruction and appears to follow a very similar pattern in children from vastly different cultures and backgrounds. It would seem, therefore, that we are born with a biological predisposition to acquire a language (Chomsky, 1965; Fernández & Cairns, 2011). Moreover, it appears that there is a critical period for language acquisition, such that this proficiency at acquiring language is maximal early in life; generally, as people age, the ease with which they acquire and master new languages diminishes (Johnson & Newport, 1989; Lenneberg, 1967; Singleton, 1995).

Children begin to learn about language from a very early age ( Table ). In fact, it appears that this is occurring even before we are born. Newborns show preference for their mother’s voice and appear to be able to discriminate between the language spoken by their mother and other languages. Babies are also attuned to the languages being used around them and show preferences for videos of faces that are moving in synchrony with the audio of spoken language versus videos that do not synchronize with the audio (Blossom & Morgan, 2006; Pickens, 1994; Spelke & Cortelyou, 1981).

In the fall of 1970, a social worker in the Los Angeles area found a 13-year-old girl who was being raised in extremely neglectful and abusive conditions. The girl, who came to be known as Genie, had lived most of her life tied to a potty chair or confined to a crib in a small room that was kept closed with the curtains drawn. For a little over a decade, Genie had virtually no social interaction and no access to the outside world. As a result of these conditions, Genie was unable to stand up, chew solid food, or speak (Fromkin, Krashen, Curtiss, Rigler, & Rigler, 1974; Rymer, 1993). The police took Genie into protective custody.

Genie’s abilities improved dramatically following her removal from her abusive environment, and early on, it appeared she was acquiring language—much later than would be predicted by critical period hypotheses that had been posited at the time (Fromkin et al., 1974). Genie managed to amass an impressive vocabulary in a relatively short amount of time. However, she never developed a mastery of the grammatical aspects of language (Curtiss, 1981). Perhaps being deprived of the opportunity to learn language during a critical period impeded Genie’s ability to fully acquire and use language.

You may recall that each language has its own set of phonemes that are used to generate morphemes, words, and so on. Babies can discriminate among the sounds that make up a language (for example, they can tell the difference between the “s” in vision and the “ss” in fission); early on, they can differentiate between the sounds of all human languages, even those that do not occur in the languages that are used in their environments. However, by the time that they are about 1 year old, they can only discriminate among those phonemes that are used in the language or languages in their environments (Jensen, 2011; Werker & Lalonde, 1988; Werker & Tees, 1984).

LinkToLearning.png

Visit this  website  to learn more about how babies lose the ability to discriminate among all possible human phonemes as they age.

After the first few months of life, babies enter what is known as the babbling stage, during which time they tend to produce single syllables that are repeated over and over. As time passes, more variations appear in the syllables that they produce. During this time, it is unlikely that the babies are trying to communicate; they are just as likely to babble when they are alone as when they are with their caregivers (Fernández & Cairns, 2011). Interestingly, babies who are raised in environments in which sign language is used will also begin to show babbling in the gestures of their hands during this stage (Petitto, Holowka, Sergio, Levy, & Ostry, 2004).

Generally, a child’s first word is uttered sometime between the ages of 1 year to 18 months, and for the next few months, the child will remain in the “one word” stage of language development. During this time, children know a number of words, but they only produce one-word utterances. The child’s early vocabulary is limited to familiar objects or events, often nouns. Although children in this stage only make one-word utterances, these words often carry larger meaning (Fernández & Cairns, 2011). So, for example, a child saying “cookie” could be identifying a cookie or asking for a cookie.

As a child’s lexicon grows, she begins to utter simple sentences and to acquire new vocabulary at a very rapid pace. In addition, children begin to demonstrate a clear understanding of the specific rules that apply to their language(s). Even the mistakes that children sometimes make provide evidence of just how much they understand about those rules. This is sometimes seen in the form of overgeneralization. In this context, overgeneralization refers to an extension of a language rule to an exception to the rule. For example, in English, it is usually the case that an “s” is added to the end of a word to indicate plurality. For example, we speak of one dog versus two dogs. Young children will overgeneralize this rule to cases that are exceptions to the “add an s to the end of the word” rule and say things like “those two gooses” or “three mouses.” Clearly, the rules of the language are understood, even if the exceptions to the rules are still being learned (Moskowitz, 1978).

LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT

When we speak one language, we agree that words are representations of ideas, people, places, and events. The given language that children learn is connected to their culture and surroundings. But can words themselves shape the way we think about things? Psychologists have long investigated the question of whether language shapes thoughts and actions, or whether our thoughts and beliefs shape our language. Two researchers, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, began this investigation in the 1940s. They wanted to understand how the language habits of a community encourage members of that community to interpret language in a particular manner (Sapir, 1941/1964). Sapir and Whorf proposed that language determines thought, suggesting, for example, that a person whose community language did not have past-tense verbs would be challenged to think about the past (Whorf, 1956). Researchers have since identified this view as too absolute, pointing out a lack of empiricism behind what Sapir and Whorf proposed (Abler, 2013; Boroditsky, 2011; van Troyer, 1994). Today, psychologists continue to study and debate the relationship between language and thought.

Think about what you know of other languages; perhaps you even speak multiple languages. Imagine for a moment that your closest friend fluently speaks more than one language. Do you think that friend thinks differently, depending on which language is being spoken? You may know a few words that are not translatable from their original language into English. For example, the Portuguese word  saudade  originated during the 15th century, when Portuguese sailors left home to explore the seas and travel to Africa or Asia. Those left behind described the emptiness and fondness they felt as  saudade  ( Figure ) .  The word came to express many meanings, including loss, nostalgia, yearning, warm memories, and hope. There is no single word in English that includes all of those emotions in a single description. Do words such as  saudade  indicate that different languages produce different patterns of thought in people? What do you think??

Photograph A shows a painting of a person leaning against a ledge, slumped sideways over a box. Photograph B shows a painting of a person reading by a window.

Language may indeed influence the way that we think, an idea known as linguistic determinism. One recent demonstration of this phenomenon involved differences in the way that English and Mandarin Chinese speakers talk and think about time. English speakers tend to talk about time using terms that describe changes along a horizontal dimension, for example, saying something like “I’m running behind schedule” or “Don’t get ahead of yourself.” While Mandarin Chinese speakers also describe time in horizontal terms, it is not uncommon to also use terms associated with a vertical arrangement. For example, the past might be described as being “up” and the future as being “down.” It turns out that these differences in language translate into differences in performance on cognitive tests designed to measure how quickly an individual can recognize temporal relationships. Specifically, when given a series of tasks with vertical priming, Mandarin Chinese speakers were faster at recognizing temporal relationships between months. Indeed, Boroditsky (2001) sees these results as suggesting that “habits in language encourage habits in thought” (p. 12).

One group of researchers who wanted to investigate how language influences thought compared how English speakers and the Dani people of Papua New Guinea think and speak about color. The Dani have two words for color: one word for  light  and one word for  dark . In contrast, the English language has 11 color words. Researchers hypothesized that the number of color terms could limit the ways that the Dani people conceptualized color. However, the Dani were able to distinguish colors with the same ability as English speakers, despite having fewer words at their disposal (Berlin & Kay, 1969). A recent review of research aimed at determining how language might affect something like color perception suggests that language can influence perceptual phenomena, especially in the left hemisphere of the brain. You may recall from earlier chapters that the left hemisphere is associated with language for most people. However, the right (less linguistic hemisphere) of the brain is less affected by linguistic influences on perception (Regier & Kay, 2009)

Language is a communication system that has both a lexicon and a system of grammar. Language acquisition occurs naturally and effortlessly during the early stages of life, and this acquisition occurs in a predictable sequence for individuals around the world. Language has a strong influence on thought, and the concept of how language may influence cognition remains an area of study and debate in psychology.

Review Questions

________ provides general principles for organizing words into meaningful sentences.

  • Linguistic determinism

________ are the smallest unit of language that carry meaning.

The meaning of words and phrases is determined by applying the rules of ________.

  • overgeneralization

________ is (are) the basic sound units of a spoken language.

Critical Thinking Questions

How do words not only represent our thoughts but also represent our values?

How could grammatical errors actually be indicative of language acquisition in children?

Personal Application Question

Can you think of examples of how language affects cognition?

Problem Solving

People face problems every day—usually, multiple problems throughout the day. Sometimes these problems are straightforward: To double a recipe for pizza dough, for example, all that is required is that each ingredient in the recipe be doubled. Sometimes, however, the problems we encounter are more complex. For example, say you have a work deadline, and you must mail a printed copy of a report to your supervisor by the end of the business day. The report is time-sensitive and must be sent overnight. You finished the report last night, but your printer will not work today. What should you do? First, you need to identify the problem and then apply a strategy for solving the problem.

PROBLEM-SOLVING STRATEGIES

When you are presented with a problem—whether it is a complex mathematical problem or a broken printer, how do you solve it? Before finding a solution to the problem, the problem must first be clearly identified. After that, one of many problem solving strategies can be applied, hopefully resulting in a solution.

A problem-solving strategy is a plan of action used to find a solution. Different strategies have different action plans associated with them ( Table ). For example, a well-known strategy is trial and error. The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” describes trial and error. In terms of your broken printer, you could try checking the ink levels, and if that doesn’t work, you could check to make sure the paper tray isn’t jammed. Or maybe the printer isn’t actually connected to your laptop. When using trial and error, you would continue to try different solutions until you solved your problem. Although trial and error is not typically one of the most time-efficient strategies, it is a commonly used one.

Another type of strategy is an algorithm. An algorithm is a problem-solving formula that provides you with step-by-step instructions used to achieve a desired outcome (Kahneman, 2011). You can think of an algorithm as a recipe with highly detailed instructions that produce the same result every time they are performed. Algorithms are used frequently in our everyday lives, especially in computer science. When you run a search on the Internet, search engines like Google use algorithms to decide which entries will appear first in your list of results. Facebook also uses algorithms to decide which posts to display on your newsfeed. Can you identify other situations in which algorithms are used?

A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A “rule of thumb” is an example of a heuristic. Such a rule saves the person time and energy when making a decision, but despite its time-saving characteristics, it is not always the best method for making a rational decision. Different types of heuristics are used in different types of situations, but the impulse to use a heuristic occurs when one of five conditions is met (Pratkanis, 1989):

  • When one is faced with too much information
  • When the time to make a decision is limited
  • When the decision to be made is unimportant
  • When there is access to very little information to use in making the decision
  • When an appropriate heuristic happens to come to mind in the same moment

Working backwards is a useful heuristic in which you begin solving the problem by focusing on the end result. Consider this example: You live in Washington, D.C. and have been invited to a wedding at 4 PM on Saturday in Philadelphia. Knowing that Interstate 95 tends to back up any day of the week, you need to plan your route and time your departure accordingly. If you want to be at the wedding service by 3:30 PM, and it takes 2.5 hours to get to Philadelphia without traffic, what time should you leave your house? You use the working backwards heuristic to plan the events of your day on a regular basis, probably without even thinking about it.

Another useful heuristic is the practice of accomplishing a large goal or task by breaking it into a series of smaller steps. Students often use this common method to complete a large research project or long essay for school. For example, students typically brainstorm, develop a thesis or main topic, research the chosen topic, organize their information into an outline, write a rough draft, revise and edit the rough draft, develop a final draft, organize the references list, and proofread their work before turning in the project. The large task becomes less overwhelming when it is broken down into a series of small steps.

Problem-solving abilities can improve with practice. Many people challenge themselves every day with puzzles and other mental exercises to sharpen their problem-solving skills. Sudoku puzzles appear daily in most newspapers. Typically, a sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid. The simple sudoku below ( Figure ) is a 4×4 grid. To solve the puzzle, fill in the empty boxes with a single digit: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Here are the rules: The numbers must total 10 in each bolded box, each row, and each column; however, each digit can only appear once in a bolded box, row, and column. Time yourself as you solve this puzzle and compare 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.

Here is another popular type of puzzle ( Figure ) that challenges your spatial reasoning skills. Connect all nine dots with four connecting straight lines without lifting your pencil from the paper:

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

Take a look at the “Puzzling Scales” logic puzzle below ( Figure ). Sam Loyd, a well-known puzzle master, created and refined countless puzzles throughout 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?”

PITFALLS TO PROBLEM SOLVING

Not all problems are successfully solved, however. What challenges stop us from successfully solving a problem? Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Imagine a person in a room that has four doorways. 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. The astronauts were in danger of being poisoned by rising levels of carbon dioxide because of problems with the carbon dioxide filters. The engineers found a way for the astronauts to use spare plastic bags, tape, and air hoses to create a makeshift air filter, which saved the lives of the astronauts.

Check out this  Apollo 13  scene  where the group of NASA engineers are given the task of overcoming functional fixedness.

Researchers have investigated whether functional fixedness is affected by culture. In one experiment, individuals from the Shuar group in Ecuador were asked to use an object for a purpose other than that for which the object was originally intended. For example, the participants were told a story about a bear and a rabbit that were separated by a river and asked to select among various objects, including a spoon, a cup, erasers, and so on, to help the animals. The spoon was the only object long enough to span the imaginary river, but if the spoon was presented in a way that reflected its normal usage, it took participants longer to choose the spoon to solve the problem. (German & Barrett, 2005). The researchers wanted to know if exposure to highly specialized tools, as occurs with individuals in industrialized nations, affects their ability to transcend functional fixedness. It was determined that functional fixedness is experienced in both industrialized and nonindustrialized cultures (German & Barrett, 2005).

In order to make good decisions, we use our knowledge and our reasoning. Often, this knowledge and reasoning is sound and solid. Sometimes, however, we are swayed by biases or by others manipulating a situation. For example, let’s say you and three friends wanted to rent a house and had a combined target budget of $1,600. The realtor shows you only very run-down houses for $1,600 and then shows you a very nice house for $2,000. Might you ask each person to pay more in rent to get the $2,000 home? Why would the realtor show you the run-down houses and the nice house? The realtor may be challenging your anchoring bias. An anchoring bias occurs when you focus on one piece of information when making a decision or solving a problem. In this case, you’re so focused on the amount of money you are willing to spend that you may not recognize what kinds of houses are available at that price point.

The confirmation bias is the tendency to focus on information that confirms your existing beliefs. For example, if you think that your professor is not very nice, you notice all of the instances of rude behavior exhibited by the professor while ignoring the countless pleasant interactions he is involved in on a daily basis. Hindsight bias leads you to believe that the event you just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t. In other words, you knew all along that things would turn out the way they did. Representative bias describes a faulty way of thinking, in which you unintentionally stereotype someone or something; for example, you may assume that your professors spend their free time reading books and engaging in intellectual conversation, because the idea of them spending their time playing volleyball or visiting an amusement park does not fit in with your stereotypes of professors.

Finally, the availability heuristic is a heuristic in which you make a decision based on an example, information, or recent experience that is that readily available to you, even though it may not be the best example to inform your decision .  Biases tend to “preserve that which is already established—to maintain our preexisting knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and hypotheses” (Aronson, 1995; Kahneman, 2011). These biases are summarized in  Table .

Please visit this  site  to see a clever music video that a high school teacher made to explain these and other cognitive biases to his AP psychology students.

Were you able to determine how many marbles are needed to balance the scales in  Figure ? You need nine. Were you able to solve the problems in  Figure  and  Figure ? Here are the answers ( Figure ).

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 different strategies exist for solving problems. Typical strategies include trial and error, applying algorithms, and using heuristics. To solve a large, complicated problem, it often helps to break the problem into smaller steps that can be accomplished individually, leading to an overall solution. Roadblocks to problem solving include a mental set, functional fixedness, and various biases that can cloud decision making skills.

A specific formula for solving a problem is called ________.

  • an algorithm
  • a heuristic
  • a mental set
  • trial and error

A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called ________.

Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem?

  • anchoring bias
  • confirmation bias
  • representative bias
  • availability bias

Which type of bias involves relying on a false stereotype to make a decision?

What is functional fixedness and how can overcoming it help you solve problems?

How does an algorithm save you time and energy when solving a problem?

Which type of bias do you recognize in your own decision making processes? How has this bias affected how you’ve made decisions in the past and how can you use your awareness of it to improve your decisions making skills in the future?

[glossary-page] [glossary-term]algorithm:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]problem-solving strategy characterized by a specific set of instructions[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]anchoring bias:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]faulty heuristic in which you fixate on a single aspect of a problem to find a solution[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]availability heuristic:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]faulty heuristic in which you make a decision based on information readily available to you[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]confirmation bias:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]faulty heuristic in which you focus on information that confirms your beliefs[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]functional fixedness:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]inability to see an object as useful for any other use other than the one for which it was intended[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]grammar:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]set of rules that are used to convey meaning through the use of a lexicon[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]heuristic:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]mental shortcut that saves time when solving a problem[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]hindsight bias:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]belief that the event just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]language:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]communication system that involves using words to transmit information from one individual to another[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]lexicon:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]the words of a given language[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]mental set:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]continually using an old solution to a problem without results[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]morpheme:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]smallest unit of language that conveys some type of meaning[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]overgeneralization:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]extension of a rule that exists in a given language to an exception to the rule[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]phoneme:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]basic sound unit of a given language[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]problem-solving strategy:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]method for solving problems[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]representative bias:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]faulty heuristic in which you stereotype someone or something without a valid basis for your judgment[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]semantics:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]process by which we derive meaning from morphemes and words[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]syntax:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]manner by which words are organized into sentences[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]trial and error:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]problem-solving strategy in which multiple solutions are attempted until the correct one is found[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]working backwards:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]heuristic in which you begin to solve a problem by focusing on the end result[/glossary-definition] [/glossary-page]

  • Language. Provided by : OpenStax CNX. Located at : https://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]:8F6SrXfG@3/Language . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • Problem Solving. Provided by : OpenStax CNX. Located at : https://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]:Lk3YnvuC@3/Problem-Solving . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

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Thinking and Intelligence

Solving Problems

Learning objectives.

  • Describe problem solving strategies, including algorithms and heuristics

People face problems every day—usually, multiple problems throughout the day. Sometimes these problems are straightforward: To double a recipe for pizza dough, for example, all that is required is that each ingredient in the recipe be doubled. Sometimes, however, the problems we encounter are more complex. For example, say you have a work deadline, and you must mail a printed copy of a report to your supervisor by the end of the business day. The report is time-sensitive and must be sent overnight. You finished the report last night, but your printer will not work today. What should you do? First, you need to identify the problem and then apply a strategy for solving the problem.

Problem-Solving Strategies

When you are presented with a problem—whether it is a complex mathematical problem or a broken printer, how do you solve it? Before finding a solution to the problem, the problem must first be clearly identified. After that, one of many problem solving strategies can be applied, hopefully resulting in a solution.

A problem-solving strategy is a plan of action used to find a solution. Different strategies have different action plans associated with them. For example, a well-known strategy is trial and error . The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” describes trial and error. In terms of your broken printer, you could try checking the ink levels, and if that doesn’t work, you could check to make sure the paper tray isn’t jammed. Or maybe the printer isn’t actually connected to your laptop. When using trial and error, you would continue to try different solutions until you solved your problem. Although trial and error is not typically one of the most time-efficient strategies, it is a commonly used one.

Another type of strategy is an algorithm. An algorithm is a problem-solving formula that provides you with step-by-step instructions used to achieve a desired outcome (Kahneman, 2011). You can think of an algorithm as a recipe with highly detailed instructions that produce the same result every time they are performed. Algorithms are used frequently in our everyday lives, especially in computer science. When you run a search on the Internet, search engines like Google use algorithms to decide which entries will appear first in your list of results. Facebook also uses algorithms to decide which posts to display on your newsfeed. Can you identify other situations in which algorithms are used?

A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A “rule of thumb” is an example of a heuristic. Such a rule saves the person time and energy when making a decision, but despite its time-saving characteristics, it is not always the best method for making a rational decision. Different types of heuristics are used in different types of situations, but the impulse to use a heuristic occurs when one of five conditions is met (Pratkanis, 1989):

  • When one is faced with too much information
  • When the time to make a decision is limited
  • When the decision to be made is unimportant
  • When there is access to very little information to use in making the decision
  • When an appropriate heuristic happens to come to mind in the same moment

Working backwards is a useful heuristic in which you begin solving the problem by focusing on the end result. Consider this example: You live in Washington, D.C. and have been invited to a wedding at 4 PM on Saturday in Philadelphia. Knowing that Interstate 95 tends to back up any day of the week, you need to plan your route and time your departure accordingly. If you want to be at the wedding service by 3:30 PM, and it takes 2.5 hours to get to Philadelphia without traffic, what time should you leave your house? You use the working backwards heuristic to plan the events of your day on a regular basis, probably without even thinking about it.

What problem-solving method could you use to solve Einstein’s famous riddle?

https://youtube.com/watch?v=1rDVz_Fb6HQ%3Flist%3DPLUmyCeox8XCwB8FrEfDQtQZmCc2qYMS5a

You can view the transcript for “Can you solve “Einstein’s Riddle”? – Dan Van der Vieren” here (opens in new window) .

Another useful heuristic is the practice of accomplishing a large goal or task by breaking it into a series of smaller steps. Students often use this common method to complete a large research project or long essay for school. For example, students typically brainstorm, develop a thesis or main topic, research the chosen topic, organize their information into an outline, write a rough draft, revise and edit the rough draft, develop a final draft, organize the references list, and proofread their work before turning in the project. The large task becomes less overwhelming when it is broken down into a series of small steps.

Everyday Connections: Solving Puzzles

Problem-solving abilities can improve with practice. Many people challenge themselves every day with puzzles and other mental exercises to sharpen their problem-solving skills. Sudoku puzzles appear daily in most newspapers. Typically, a sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid. The simple sudoku below (Figure 1) is a 4×4 grid. To solve the puzzle, fill in the empty boxes with a single digit: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Here are the rules: The numbers must total 10 in each bolded box, each row, and each column; however, each digit can only appear once in a bolded box, row, and column. Time yourself as you solve this puzzle and compare 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.

Here is another popular type of puzzle that challenges your spatial reasoning skills. Connect all nine dots with four connecting straight lines without lifting your pencil from the paper:

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

Take a look at the “Puzzling Scales” logic puzzle below (Figure 3). Sam Loyd, a well-known puzzle master, created and refined countless puzzles throughout 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?”

Were you able to determine how many marbles are needed to balance the scales in the Puzzling Scales? You need nine. Were you able to solve the other problems above? Here are the answers:

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.

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  • Can you solve Einsteinu2019s Riddle? . Authored by : Dan Van der Vieren. Provided by : Ted-Ed. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rDVz_Fb6HQ&index=3&list=PLUmyCeox8XCwB8FrEfDQtQZmCc2qYMS5a . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License

method for solving problems

problem-solving strategy in which multiple solutions are attempted until the correct one is found

problem-solving strategy characterized by a specific set of instructions

mental shortcut that saves time when solving a problem

heuristic in which you begin to solve a problem by focusing on the end result

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Thinking and Intelligence

Solving problems, learning objectives.

  • Describe problem solving strategies, including algorithms and heuristics

People face problems every day—usually, multiple problems throughout the day. Sometimes these problems are straightforward: To double a recipe for pizza dough, for example, all that is required is that each ingredient in the recipe be doubled. Sometimes, however, the problems we encounter are more complex. For example, say you have a work deadline, and you must mail a printed copy of a report to your supervisor by the end of the business day. The report is time-sensitive and must be sent overnight. You finished the report last night, but your printer will not work today. What should you do? First, you need to identify the problem and then apply a strategy for solving the problem.

Problem-Solving Strategies

When you are presented with a problem—whether it is a complex mathematical problem or a broken printer, how do you solve it? Before finding a solution to the problem, the problem must first be clearly identified. After that, one of many problem solving strategies can be applied, hopefully resulting in a solution.

A problem-solving strategy is a plan of action used to find a solution. Different strategies have different action plans associated with them. For example, a well-known strategy is trial and error . The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” describes trial and error. In terms of your broken printer, you could try checking the ink levels, and if that doesn’t work, you could check to make sure the paper tray isn’t jammed. Or maybe the printer isn’t actually connected to your laptop. When using trial and error, you would continue to try different solutions until you solved your problem. Although trial and error is not typically one of the most time-efficient strategies, it is a commonly used one.

Another type of strategy is an algorithm. An algorithm is a problem-solving formula that provides you with step-by-step instructions used to achieve a desired outcome (Kahneman, 2011). You can think of an algorithm as a recipe with highly detailed instructions that produce the same result every time they are performed. Algorithms are used frequently in our everyday lives, especially in computer science. When you run a search on the Internet, search engines like Google use algorithms to decide which entries will appear first in your list of results. Facebook also uses algorithms to decide which posts to display on your newsfeed. Can you identify other situations in which algorithms are used?

A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A “rule of thumb” is an example of a heuristic. Such a rule saves the person time and energy when making a decision, but despite its time-saving characteristics, it is not always the best method for making a rational decision. Different types of heuristics are used in different types of situations, but the impulse to use a heuristic occurs when one of five conditions is met (Pratkanis, 1989):

  • When one is faced with too much information
  • When the time to make a decision is limited
  • When the decision to be made is unimportant
  • When there is access to very little information to use in making the decision
  • When an appropriate heuristic happens to come to mind in the same moment

Working backwards is a useful heuristic in which you begin solving the problem by focusing on the end result. Consider this example: You live in Washington, D.C. and have been invited to a wedding at 4 PM on Saturday in Philadelphia. Knowing that Interstate 95 tends to back up any day of the week, you need to plan your route and time your departure accordingly. If you want to be at the wedding service by 3:30 PM, and it takes 2.5 hours to get to Philadelphia without traffic, what time should you leave your house? You use the working backwards heuristic to plan the events of your day on a regular basis, probably without even thinking about it.

You can view the transcript for “Can you solve “Einstein’s Riddle”? – Dan Van der Vieren” here (opens in new window) .

Another useful heuristic is the practice of accomplishing a large goal or task by breaking it into a series of smaller steps. Students often use this common method to complete a large research project or long essay for school. For example, students typically brainstorm, develop a thesis or main topic, research the chosen topic, organize their information into an outline, write a rough draft, revise and edit the rough draft, develop a final draft, organize the references list, and proofread their work before turning in the project. The large task becomes less overwhelming when it is broken down into a series of small steps.

Everyday Connections: Solving Puzzles

Problem-solving abilities can improve with practice. Many people challenge themselves every day with puzzles and other mental exercises to sharpen their problem-solving skills. Sudoku puzzles appear daily in most newspapers. Typically, a sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid. The simple sudoku below (Figure 1) is a 4×4 grid. To solve the puzzle, fill in the empty boxes with a single digit: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Here are the rules: The numbers must total 10 in each bolded box, each row, and each column; however, each digit can only appear once in a bolded box, row, and column. Time yourself as you solve this puzzle and compare 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.

Figure 1 . How long did it take you to solve this sudoku puzzle? (You can see the answer at the end of this section.)

Here is another popular type of puzzle that challenges your spatial reasoning skills. Connect all nine dots with four connecting straight lines without lifting your pencil from the paper:

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

Figure 2 . Did you figure it out? (The answer is at the end of this section.) Once you understand how to crack this puzzle, you won’t forget.

Take a look at the “Puzzling Scales” logic puzzle below (Figure 3). Sam Loyd, a well-known puzzle master, created and refined countless puzzles throughout 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?”

Figure 3 . The puzzle reads, “Since the scales now balance…and balance when arranged this way, then how many marbles will it require to balance with that top?

Were you able to determine how many marbles are needed to balance the scales in the Puzzling Scales? You need nine. Were you able to solve the other problems above? Here are the answers:

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.

  • Modification and adaptation. Provided by : Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Problem-Solving. Authored by : OpenStax College. Located at : https://openstax.org/books/psychology-2e/pages/7-3-problem-solving . License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at https://openstax.org/books/psychology-2e/pages/1-introduction
  • Can you solve Einsteinu2019s Riddle? . Authored by : Dan Van der Vieren. Provided by : Ted-Ed. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rDVz_Fb6HQ&index=3&list=PLUmyCeox8XCwB8FrEfDQtQZmCc2qYMS5a . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License

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43 Problem Solving

[latexpage]

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe problem solving strategies
  • Define algorithm and heuristic
  • Explain some common roadblocks to effective problem solving

People face problems every day—usually, multiple problems throughout the day. Sometimes these problems are straightforward: To double a recipe for pizza dough, for example, all that is required is that each ingredient in the recipe be doubled. Sometimes, however, the problems we encounter are more complex. For example, say you have a work deadline, and you must mail a printed copy of a report to your supervisor by the end of the business day. The report is time-sensitive and must be sent overnight. You finished the report last night, but your printer will not work today. What should you do? First, you need to identify the problem and then apply a strategy for solving the problem.

PROBLEM-SOLVING STRATEGIES

When you are presented with a problem—whether it is a complex mathematical problem or a broken printer, how do you solve it? Before finding a solution to the problem, the problem must first be clearly identified. After that, one of many problem solving strategies can be applied, hopefully resulting in a solution.

A problem-solving strategy is a plan of action used to find a solution. Different strategies have different action plans associated with them ( [link] ). For example, a well-known strategy is trial and error . The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” describes trial and error. In terms of your broken printer, you could try checking the ink levels, and if that doesn’t work, you could check to make sure the paper tray isn’t jammed. Or maybe the printer isn’t actually connected to your laptop. When using trial and error, you would continue to try different solutions until you solved your problem. Although trial and error is not typically one of the most time-efficient strategies, it is a commonly used one.

Another type of strategy is an algorithm. An algorithm is a problem-solving formula that provides you with step-by-step instructions used to achieve a desired outcome (Kahneman, 2011). You can think of an algorithm as a recipe with highly detailed instructions that produce the same result every time they are performed. Algorithms are used frequently in our everyday lives, especially in computer science. When you run a search on the Internet, search engines like Google use algorithms to decide which entries will appear first in your list of results. Facebook also uses algorithms to decide which posts to display on your newsfeed. Can you identify other situations in which algorithms are used?

A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A “rule of thumb” is an example of a heuristic. Such a rule saves the person time and energy when making a decision, but despite its time-saving characteristics, it is not always the best method for making a rational decision. Different types of heuristics are used in different types of situations, but the impulse to use a heuristic occurs when one of five conditions is met (Pratkanis, 1989):

  • When one is faced with too much information
  • When the time to make a decision is limited
  • When the decision to be made is unimportant
  • When there is access to very little information to use in making the decision
  • When an appropriate heuristic happens to come to mind in the same moment

Working backwards is a useful heuristic in which you begin solving the problem by focusing on the end result. Consider this example: You live in Washington, D.C. and have been invited to a wedding at 4 PM on Saturday in Philadelphia. Knowing that Interstate 95 tends to back up any day of the week, you need to plan your route and time your departure accordingly. If you want to be at the wedding service by 3:30 PM, and it takes 2.5 hours to get to Philadelphia without traffic, what time should you leave your house? You use the working backwards heuristic to plan the events of your day on a regular basis, probably without even thinking about it.

Another useful heuristic is the practice of accomplishing a large goal or task by breaking it into a series of smaller steps. Students often use this common method to complete a large research project or long essay for school. For example, students typically brainstorm, develop a thesis or main topic, research the chosen topic, organize their information into an outline, write a rough draft, revise and edit the rough draft, develop a final draft, organize the references list, and proofread their work before turning in the project. The large task becomes less overwhelming when it is broken down into a series of small steps.

Problem-solving abilities can improve with practice. Many people challenge themselves every day with puzzles and other mental exercises to sharpen their problem-solving skills. Sudoku puzzles appear daily in most newspapers. Typically, a sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid. The simple sudoku below ( [link] ) is a 4×4 grid. To solve the puzzle, fill in the empty boxes with a single digit: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Here are the rules: The numbers must total 10 in each bolded box, each row, and each column; however, each digit can only appear once in a bolded box, row, and column. Time yourself as you solve this puzzle and compare 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.

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:

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

Take a look at the “Puzzling Scales” logic puzzle below ( [link] ). Sam Loyd, a well-known puzzle master, created and refined countless puzzles throughout 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?”

PITFALLS TO PROBLEM SOLVING

Not all problems are successfully solved, however. What challenges stop us from successfully solving a problem? Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Imagine a person in a room that has four doorways. 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. The astronauts were in danger of being poisoned by rising levels of carbon dioxide because of problems with the carbon dioxide filters. The engineers found a way for the astronauts to use spare plastic bags, tape, and air hoses to create a makeshift air filter, which saved the lives of the astronauts.

a general problem solving framework that involves mental shortcuts is called a(n)

Check out this Apollo 13 scene where the group of NASA engineers are given the task of overcoming functional fixedness.

Researchers have investigated whether functional fixedness is affected by culture. In one experiment, individuals from the Shuar group in Ecuador were asked to use an object for a purpose other than that for which the object was originally intended. For example, the participants were told a story about a bear and a rabbit that were separated by a river and asked to select among various objects, including a spoon, a cup, erasers, and so on, to help the animals. The spoon was the only object long enough to span the imaginary river, but if the spoon was presented in a way that reflected its normal usage, it took participants longer to choose the spoon to solve the problem. (German & Barrett, 2005). The researchers wanted to know if exposure to highly specialized tools, as occurs with individuals in industrialized nations, affects their ability to transcend functional fixedness. It was determined that functional fixedness is experienced in both industrialized and nonindustrialized cultures (German & Barrett, 2005).

In order to make good decisions, we use our knowledge and our reasoning. Often, this knowledge and reasoning is sound and solid. Sometimes, however, we are swayed by biases or by others manipulating a situation. For example, let’s say you and three friends wanted to rent a house and had a combined target budget of $1,600. The realtor shows you only very run-down houses for $1,600 and then shows you a very nice house for $2,000. Might you ask each person to pay more in rent to get the $2,000 home? Why would the realtor show you the run-down houses and the nice house? The realtor may be challenging your anchoring bias. An anchoring bias occurs when you focus on one piece of information when making a decision or solving a problem. In this case, you’re so focused on the amount of money you are willing to spend that you may not recognize what kinds of houses are available at that price point.

The confirmation bias is the tendency to focus on information that confirms your existing beliefs. For example, if you think that your professor is not very nice, you notice all of the instances of rude behavior exhibited by the professor while ignoring the countless pleasant interactions he is involved in on a daily basis. Hindsight bias leads you to believe that the event you just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t. In other words, you knew all along that things would turn out the way they did. Representative bias describes a faulty way of thinking, in which you unintentionally stereotype someone or something; for example, you may assume that your professors spend their free time reading books and engaging in intellectual conversation, because the idea of them spending their time playing volleyball or visiting an amusement park does not fit in with your stereotypes of professors.

Finally, the availability heuristic is a heuristic in which you make a decision based on an example, information, or recent experience that is that readily available to you, even though it may not be the best example to inform your decision . Biases tend to “preserve that which is already established—to maintain our preexisting knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and hypotheses” (Aronson, 1995; Kahneman, 2011). These biases are summarized in [link] .

Please visit this site to see a clever music video that a high school teacher made to explain these and other cognitive biases to his AP psychology students.

Were you able to determine how many marbles are needed to balance the scales in [link] ? You need nine. Were you able to solve the problems in [link] and [link] ? Here are the answers ( [link] ).

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 different strategies exist for solving problems. Typical strategies include trial and error, applying algorithms, and using heuristics. To solve a large, complicated problem, it often helps to break the problem into smaller steps that can be accomplished individually, leading to an overall solution. Roadblocks to problem solving include a mental set, functional fixedness, and various biases that can cloud decision making skills.

Review Questions

A specific formula for solving a problem is called ________.

  • an algorithm
  • a heuristic
  • a mental set
  • trial and error

A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called ________.

Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem?

  • anchoring bias
  • confirmation bias
  • representative bias
  • availability bias

Which type of bias involves relying on a false stereotype to make a decision?

Critical Thinking Questions

What is functional fixedness and how can overcoming it help you solve problems?

Functional fixedness occurs when you cannot see a use for an object other than the use for which it was intended. For example, if you need something to hold up a tarp in the rain, but only have a pitchfork, you must overcome your expectation that a pitchfork can only be used for garden chores before you realize that you could stick it in the ground and drape the tarp on top of it to hold it up.

How does an algorithm save you time and energy when solving a problem?

An algorithm is a proven formula for achieving a desired outcome. It saves time because if you follow it exactly, you will solve the problem without having to figure out how to solve the problem. It is a bit like not reinventing the wheel.

Personal Application Question

Which type of bias do you recognize in your own decision making processes? How has this bias affected how you’ve made decisions in the past and how can you use your awareness of it to improve your decisions making skills in the future?

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COMMENTS

  1. Psychology--Ch. 7.3 Flashcards

    method for solving problems. Study with Quizlet and memorize flashcards containing terms like A specific formula for solving a problem is called ________., A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called ________., Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem? and more.

  2. QUIZ Thinking and Intelligence

    A specific formula for solving a problem is called _____. a heuristic. A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called _____. anchoring bias. Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem? a representative bias.

  3. 7.3 Problem-Solving

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.

  4. Heuristics: Definition, Examples, and How They Work

    These mental shortcuts can help people make decisions more efficiently. Heuristics are mental shortcuts that allow people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. These rule-of-thumb strategies shorten decision-making time and allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about their next course of action.

  5. 7.3 Problem Solving

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.

  6. Heuristics

    2. Next. A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows an individual to make a decision, pass judgment, or solve a problem quickly and with minimal mental effort. While heuristics can reduce the ...

  7. Chapter 7 Psychology Flashcards

    A specific formula for solving a problem is called a ____ Algorithm. A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called a ____ Heuristic. Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem?

  8. Heuristics

    Heuristics are mental shortcuts that can facilitate problem-solving and probability judgments. These strategies are generalizations, or rules-of-thumb, that reduce cognitive load. They can be effective for making immediate judgments, however, they often result in irrational or inaccurate conclusions. Where this bias occurs.

  9. Problem Solving

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.

  10. Psychology, Thinking and Intelligence, Problem Solving

    A specific formula for solving a problem is called _____. an algorithm; a heuristic; a mental set; trial and error; Show Hint. Hint: A. A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called _____. an algorithm; a heuristic; a mental set; trial and error; Show Hint. Hint: B. Which type of bias involves becoming fixated ...

  11. Ch. 7 Review Questions

    A specific formula for solving a problem is called _____. an algorithm ... a mental set; trial and error; 10. A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called _____. an algorithm; a heuristic; a mental set; trial and error; 11. Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem? anchoring ...

  12. 7.4: Problem Solving

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.

  13. Problem Solving, Thinking, and Intelligence: Review Questions

    A specific formula for solving a problem is called _____. an algorithm; a heuristic; a mental set; trial and error; A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called _____. an algorithm; a heuristic; a mental set; trial and error; Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem? anchoring ...

  14. 18.12: Chapter 14- Problem Solving, Categories and Concepts

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.

  15. Language and Problem Solving

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.

  16. Chapter 7 Review Questions Flashcards

    D. Being able to see complex relationships and solve problems. Fluid intelligence is characterized by ________. A. Being able to recall information. B. Being able to create new products. C. Being able to understand and communicate with different cultures. D. Being able to see complex relationships and solve problems. A. Creative.

  17. 6.6: Language and Problem Solving

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.

  18. A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is

    This method does not fit the definition of a mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework, so we can eliminate this option. Step 3/5 Step 3: A mental set is a tendency to approach situations the same way because that way worked in the past.

  19. Problem Solving

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.

  20. Solving Problems

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.

  21. Problem Solving

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.

  22. Solving Problems

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.

  23. Problem Solving

    A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A "rule of thumb" is an example of a heuristic.