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problem-solving

A process in which one begins with a goal and seeks some steps that will lead toward that goal.

initial state

The state one begins in, in working toward the solution of a problem.

goal state

The state one is working toward in trying to solve a problem.

Operator

A tool or action that one can use, in problem-solving, to move from the problem's initial state to the goal state.

path constraint

A limit that rules out some operation in problem-solving. May take the form of resource limitations (limited time to spend on the problem, or limited money) or limits of other sorts (perhaps ethical limits on what one can do).

problem space

The set of all states that can be reached in solving a problem, as one moves, by means of the problem's operators, from the problem's initial state toward the problem's goal state.

problem-solving protocol

A record of how someone seeks to solve a problem; the record is created by simply asking the person to think aloud while working on the problem. The written record of this thinking aloud is the protocol.

hill-climbing strategy

A commonly used strategy in problem-solving. If people use this strategy, then whenever their efforts toward solving a problem give them a choice, they will choose the option that carries them closer to the goal.

Means-end analysis

a strategy used in problem-solving in which the person is guided, step-by-step by a comparison of the difference, at that moment between the current state and the goal state and a consideration of the operators available

Subproblem

a subdivision of a problem being solved. These are produced when a person tries to solve a problem by breaking it into components or steps, each with its own goal, but so that solving all results in solution of the overall problem

working backward

A commonly used problem-solving strategy in which the person begins with the goal state and tries to figure out what transformations or operations would make this state more similar to the problem's starting point (the initial state).

Map

To figure out how aspects of one situation or argument correspond to aspects of some other situation or argument.

ill-defined problem

A problem for which the goal state is specified only in general terms and the operators available for reaching the goal state are not obvious at the start.

well-defined problem

A problem for which the goal state is clearly specified at the start and the operators available for reaching that goal are clearly identified.

functional fixedness

A tendency to be rigid in how one thinks about an object's function. This generally involves a strong tendency to think of an object only in terms of its typical function.

problem-solving set

The starting assumptions that a person uses when trying to solve a new problem. These assumptions are often helpful, because they guide the person away from pointless strategies. But these assumptions can sometimes steer the person away from worthwhile strategies, and so they can be an obstacle.

Einstellung

The phenomenon in problem-solving in which people develop a certain attitude or perspective on a problem and then approach all subsequent problems with the same rigid attitude.

Preparation

The first in a series of stages often hypothesized as crucial for creativity. Stage in which one commences effortful work on the problem, often with little progress.

Incubation

The second in a series of stages often hypothesized as crucial for creativity. This stage consists of (hypothesized) events that occur when one puts a problem being worked on out of one's conscious thoughts, but continues nonetheless to work on the problem unconsciously.

Illumination

The third in a series of stages often hypothesized as crucial for creativity. This is the stage in which some new key insight or new idea suddenly comes to mind.

Verification

One of the four steps commonly hypothesized as part of creative problem-solving; in this step, one confirms that a new idea really does lead to a problem solution, and one works out the details.

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