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The ratings of relatedness for the various pairs of words are shown in
Creativity: Understanding Innovation
Figure 6.4B, and several points should be noted. First, the relatedness for the insight pairs changed from the naive rating to the solved rating, providing evidence that the structure of the problem changed as it was solved. In addition, the ratings for the related and unrelated pairs did not change from the naive to the solved rating, which indicates that there was a specificity to the change in structure: Only those pairs judged to be important to the structure of the problem changed in their relations. However, the results also may have raised a question for the Gestalt view. If one examines the change in the relatedness scores for the insight pairs as the participants worked through the problem, one sees that they did not change suddenly, as one would expect from the Gestalt view (and from Metcalfe’s feeling-of-warmth ratings). This discrepancy may be due to the method of data analysis carried out by Durso and colleagues (1994), since they measured the structure of the problem at a few points, and these were relatively widely separated in time. Perhaps if they had measured the possible changes in problem structure relatively frequently, as did Metcalfe and Wiebe (1987) in measuring changes in feelings of warmth, the change in structure might have been found to be sudden.
Although there may be some ambiguity in their interpretation, overall the results of Durso and colleagues (1994) provide evidence that restructuring does occur during the solution of one insight problem. This study is also important because it provides an example of a method that can be used to demonstrate the occurrence of restructuring, which one might have thought was too vague a concept to be captured in the net of experimental methods.
Failure and Fixation in Problem Solving
Several different sorts of investigations have provided evidence that insightful problem solving can be interfered with by fixation—a too-strong reliance on the past. The following sections examine some of these investigations.
Duncker’s Study of Functional Fixedness
In a classic study, Duncker (1945) investigated several problems in which seemingly simple solutions were not produced by the participants, presumably because of interference by fixation. The problems all required that a familiar object be used in a novel way. However, if that object was first used in its usual way in the problem, solution was interfered with; the typical function of the object blocked the discovery of the new function demanded by the problem. In those problems, one’s experience with an object interfered with the ability to use that object in a new way. One problem studied by Duncker
The Question of Insight in Problem Solving
was the Candle problem (Figure 6.1B). The solution to this problem that was of interest to Duncker was the box solution: constructing a shelf or holder for the candle, using the tack box (see Figure 6.2B). The box solution is either not produced at all or is not the first solution that a person proposes (Duncker, 1945; Fleck & Weisberg, 2004). If the box is presented empty of tacks, however, then the box solution is usually the first solution produced, which means that it is within everyone’s grasp. Thus, presenting the box in its usual function (as a container for the tacks) interfered with its being used in a novel way. Duncker used the term functional fixedness to refer to the interference brought about by an established function of an object.
In explaining the occurrence of functional fixedness, Duncker (1945) relied on perceptual mechanisms. He proposed that presenting the box full of tacks highlighted what he called its container properties. Constructing the box solution to the problem, however, required that the box be used as a platform or shelf, and the properties of the box that are relevant to its use as a shelf (i.e., that it is flat and sturdy) were obscured or made difficult to perceive by the usual presentation of the problem. This component of the initial structure of the problem had to be changed in order for the box solution to be produced, and the restructuring was interfered with by the presentation of the box in its typical function.
Design Fixation in Problem Solving
Jansson and Smith (1991) examined design fixation in a situation in which engineers and engineering students were asked to design new versions of everyday objects—for example, a bicycle rack for a car, a measuring cup that could be used by the blind, and a spill-proof cup to hold hot beverages. Jansson and Smith noted that when engineers are given a design problem to solve, they are often given a present-day version of the desired object to improve upon and are informed of its shortcomings. The engineer’s task is to design a new object that avoids those shortcomings. However, based on the idea of fixation, concern arose on the part of Jansson and Smith that the presence of the example might result in the designer’s incorporating aspects of it into the new design, even the problematic features. Jansson and Smith’s study consisted of several experiments, each of which tested groups of engineers or engineering students. In each experiment, two groups were given the same design problem; the only difference was that one group was given a pictorial example, with its problematic aspects pointed out, and was told to avoid those components. The control group never saw the example. In all the experiments, the presence of the example resulted in designs that contained the problematic aspects of the example, even when the individuals were told to avoid those aspects in their designs. It seems on the basis