Problem Solving and Decision Making: Types, Approaches and Barriers to Effective Problem Solving – Cognition (PSY)

by Tarry Ahuja, PhD

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    00:01 If there’s a problem in front of us, we need to use our cognitive abilities and skills to deal with that task or problem.

    00:07 So the different ways of solving and trying to approach this are varied and we’re going to go through a couple of them.

    00:13 One is really commonly used, that’s trial and error.

    00:16 And this approach is characterized by repeated, varied attempts which are continued until success or the individual just gives up, right? So, say for example, you’re trying to open the combination on a lock of your locker.

    00:30 You know, you’re going to try a certain combination, that doesn’t work.

    00:32 You’re going to try another combination, that doesn’t work.

    00:34 And eventually, you’re going to get that lock open or you’re just going to say, “I can’t open this,” and you walk away.

    00:39 So the same holds true for like a puzzle, a math problem, anything.

    00:43 You do this trial and error.

    00:44 And that’s -- you know, it works in a lot of ways, but there’s a lack of structure, okay? Now you can have an algorithm which is a little bit more organized and it’s a self-contained step-by-step set of operations used to reach an end goal.

    00:59 So same thing, you have a step-by-step instruction of what to do.

    01:04 So this is quite common in terms of medical profession, a treatment algorithm we call it.

    01:10 So say a patient comes into you and is complaining of depression and you assess the patient and you agree, yeah, there’s probably some depression here.

    01:20 Let’s say MDD, major depressive disorder.

    01:24 There are sort of guidelines and treatment algorithms on how you should probably approach this treatment strategy with this patient.

    01:34 So you’re going to start with one drug, one medicine, one antidepressant.

    01:40 That might not work and then there’s a step-by-step on what you’re trying to do.

    01:43 So the end goal is complete treatment and remission and you’re going to go through this treatment algorithm in a step-by-step fashion in order to achieve that end goal.

    01:52 So you will do the same thing in terms of trying to solve a problem.

    01:55 So in this case, the problem is the mood disorder, but it could be anything.

    02:01 Next we have something called a heuristic, which is any approach that employs a practical method not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect but instead sufficient.

    02:12 So, a heuristic is a mental shortcut.

    02:15 So a lot of times this is done just to speed up the process and these mental shortcuts ease what we call the cognitive load.

    02:22 And this isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it’s more of making it manageable for you.

    02:27 So we call that a rule of thumb or an educated guess, right? So you have an idea or shortcut of what you think it is, and so you just implement that idea as opposed to actually thinking about it and breaking it down in components.

    02:39 So it’s not guaranteed to be successful every time, but it is quite quick and a lot of times it’s sufficient to get the problem done.

    02:47 So the problem-solving strategies may be conscious or unconscious.

    02:51 Sometimes we actually encode heuristics without actually thinking about them.

    02:55 Sometimes it is actually a conscious effort, we actually are thinking about what we’re doing.

    02:59 Insight occurs when a solution to a problem presents itself without warning, after trial and error.

    03:04 We’ve all done this before, where you’re trying to deal with a problem.

    03:08 It might be trying to change the batteries on your remote.

    03:13 And so you can’t remember how to do it and you’re trying different things and you’re squeezing the top and you’re pinching the side or, “Honey, get my screwdriver,” and you’re working on the remote.

    03:22 And all of a sudden, insight, so something happens and you get that -- that light bulb goes off going, “Oh yeah. It’s right here.” And you pop it off and you change the batteries, right? So that would be when you get that kind of the solution to this problem in front of you and it comes like it says without warning after you’ve been working on the problem.

    03:42 Now, what are some of the barriers to effective problem solving? Two common cognitive barriers to problem solving include confirmation bias and fixation.

    03:51 Confirmation bias is a tendency to search only for the information that confirms one’s beliefs or hypothesis.

    03:57 So think about all the possible scenarios that you could have, all the possible answers that you can have.

    04:03 If you in your mind are biased towards your beliefs, thinking, well, I know this is how you do it.

    04:09 And say you’re working on a puzzle with somebody and you’re working on that puzzle and you think that this piece should fit, and it’s not fitting.

    04:17 And somebody else might come in and say, “Oh, I think you should do it.” No, no, no. I know what it is. I just think that I’m not doing it right,” and you’re not looking at options that are going to disprove your belief.

    04:27 You’re looking at ways that things that you can do to confirm your belief that this piece should fit.

    04:32 So you give disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.

    04:36 So we’re saying is you won’t even consider other options.

    04:39 This is it. This is the option because this is how it should be.

    04:42 So it can be prevented by approaching a problem from multiple perspectives.

    04:47 And you see this in a workplace, you this in the health profession.

    04:51 You know, the doctor might be trying one treatment strategy and it’s just not working, or they’re trying to see a patient and the patient just won’t get any better, and the doctor will then go on and either get -- you can yourself say, “Well, maybe I want a second opinion,” the doctor might bring in another doc, or send the files and say, “Can you take a look at this and tell me what you think?” But if you’re following the confirmation bias, you tend to not want to do that and you’ll say, “Well, no. This is the problem, so I know the solution,” as opposed to saying, “Well, maybe I should get another set of eyes on this.” And so if you’re emotionally invested in this or if you’re really adamant about something, you start to get emotionally involved, that also prevents you from trying to get away from that bias.

    05:29 It actually strengthens the bias and it amplifies the effect.

    05:33 Now fixation, on the other hand, is an inability to see the problem from a fresh perspective.

    05:38 Now, these two can be related that you can have like a confirmation bias and you have fixation.

    05:44 So you can now tease out fixation a little bit more.

    05:49 It’s a tendency to fixate on solutions that worked in the past even though they may not apply to the current situation.

    05:54 So you have a mindset or a mental set on end result already and you’re not looking at what’s in front of you right now.

    06:03 So you’re already at the solution and you haven’t really established how to get there just yet because how you’ve gotten there in the past is all you know and it’s what you’re so fixated on.

    06:13 So functional fixedness is a belief that the role and function of objects is unchanging.

    06:18 So an example there would be scissors.

    06:21 If I am asking you to open a box or a package and you always use your scissors and that’s what you know is, “Oh, I got to open this. I need my scissors. Where are my scissors?” And you’re sitting there waiting, you’re looking and you can’t find your scissors.

    06:31 And you’re sitting there waiting, you’re looking and you can’t find your scissors.

    06:35 Now, that sucks that you can’t find your scissors but you have other options.

    06:38 And this is when you can start digging into your pockets and you dig up that key or a quarter or a screwdriver and you take that and you start ripping and opening the package.

    06:46 Now, that might not be the primary function of the car keys, its job is to start a car, but you can use it for other things, right? So that’s called functional fixedness.

    About the Lecture

    The lecture Problem Solving and Decision Making: Types, Approaches and Barriers to Effective Problem Solving – Cognition (PSY) by Tarry Ahuja, PhD is from the course Making Sense of the Environment. It contains the following chapters:

    • Types of Problem Solving and Approaches
    • Barriers to Effective Problem Solving

    Included Quiz Questions

    1. Heuristic
    2. Algorithmic
    3. Functional fixation
    4. Trial-and-error
    5. Insight-based
    1. Confirmation bias
    2. Trial and error
    3. Heuristics
    4. Insight
    5. Algorithm
    1. Algorithmic
    2. Heuristic
    3. Insight-based
    4. Trial-and-error based
    5. Unconscious
    1. Confirmation bias
    2. Functional fixedness
    3. Insight
    4. Heuristics
    5. Anchoring

    Author of lecture Problem Solving and Decision Making: Types, Approaches and Barriers to Effective Problem Solving – Cognition (PSY)

     Tarry Ahuja, PhD

    Tarry Ahuja, PhD

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