Academic study of problem solving and thinking related to everyday life Every day individuals are faced with many different problems for example deciding what to wear, finding a suitable place to park your car or even completing an assignment. Whatever the problem is, ‘problem solving is defined as any goal-directed sequence of cognitive operations’, as suggested by Anderson (1980, p.257). There has been a vast amount of research on human problem solving which has provided a better understanding of the processes involved in problem solving. An evaluation of a range of theories related to human problem solving and thinking will be introduced such as information theory, transfer of learning and Gestalt theory and critiqued with examples of everyday life; with the main thesis being to understand problem solving relies on previous experience and knowledge of a problem. The first topic to be introduced is the information processing theory. It was first introduced by Newell and Simon (1972; cited in Anderson, 1993, p.35) it provided a better understanding of human problem solving in everyday life. Information processing theory proposes that in order to solve a problem, the problem solver must process the information that is available to them i.e. what the problem is and what is required in order to solve the problem. It is thought that problems contain initial state; what the problem is, the goal; what is the outcome of the problem you want to achieve and the operators; what is required or the steps used to achieve the goal. For instance, a student has a problem which is they have 3 assignments due in the same month which is the initial state the goal would be to hand all the assignments in on time and the operators would be delegating time to each assignment accordingly to be able to achieve the goal. However there is also an aspect of the environment that needs to be considered known as the operator restrictions, such as in the example above there may be factors that are not in the control of the problem solver that can affect the outcome of the problem. For instance one of the assignments may require more time and effort compared to the others, this can cause a delay in time and the problem solver may not be able to submit all the assignments on time. On the other hand the problem solver may already know the topics and therefore may not have an issue with completing the work which will result in accomplishing the goal much sooner than expected; this can be explained as the concept of problem space. Another great example of this was illustrated by the problem of Tower of Hanoi as it demonstrates information processes. The Tower of Hanoi consists of three rods where the first rod (rod a) contains three discs of different sizes in ascending order with the smallest disc on top. The aim of the problem is to transfer the discs from rod a on to the far rod (rod c) while obeying simple rules, only one disc can be moved at a time, larger disc cannot be placed on top of smaller one and can only move the top disc of any rod. By doing the Tower of Hanoi task it demonstrates the problem solver having to go through the ‘problem space’, the initial state; the task, the goal; transferring the three discs on to rod c and the operators, the actions required to complete the task. The rules can demonstrate the conditions that can affect the outcome of the goal. (Kahney, 1993)
Robertson, 2001 claims that in order to understand a problem requires the ability to build mental representations based on what the problem involves with the use of previous knowledge known as heuristic strategies. This will assist the problem solver in finding possible ways in finding a solution. However the theory behind the Tower of Hanoi and how it demonstrates the strategies problem solvers use to tackle problems cannot be applied to all situations as it can fail to demonstrate a realistic process in everyday life. The Tower of Hanoi has a solution which is...
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