Problem Solving

Problem Solving

Problem Solving

Problem Solving


Problem solving is an integral part of everyday life yet few books are dedicated to this important aspect of human cognition. In each case, the problem, such as solving a crossword or writing an essay, has a goal. In this comprehensive and timely textbook, the author discusses the psychological processes underlying such goal-directed problem solving, and examines both how we learn from experience of problem solving and how our learning transfers (or often fails to transfer) from one situation to another. Following initial coverage of the methods we use to solve unfamiliar problems, the book goes on to examine the psychological processes involved in novice problem solving before progressing to the methods and processes used by skilled problem solvers or "experts". Topics covered include: how we generate a useful representation of a problem as a starting point; general problem solving strategies we use in unfamiliar situations; possible processes involved in insight or lateral thinking; the nature of problem similarity and the role of analogies in problem solving; understanding and learning from textbooks; and how we develop expertise through the learning of specific problem solving skills. Clear, up-to-date and accessible, Problem Solving will be of interest to undergraduates and postgraduates in cognitive psychology, cognitive science, and educational psychology. The focus on the practical transfer of learning through problem solving will also make it of relevance to educationalists and business psychologists.


Despite the title, I'm afraid this book will not necessarily help you solve your personal problems. Instead it is about the psychological processes involved in problem solving-how we go about solving various types of problems, what kinds of things make it hard to solve problems, and how we learn from the experience of solving them.

Who is it for? The book was written mainly (but not exclusively) with undergraduate students of psychology in mind, and should be particularly relevant to courses in cognitive psychology, cognitive science and problem solving and thinking. Students of artificial intelligence and computer modelling should also find several parts that are relevant to their studies. A large section of the book concerns “transfer of learning”. In other words a lot of the book is about the effectiveness or otherwise of certain teaching contexts. As a result there is much here that would be of interest to educationalists including classroom teachers. Business, industry, and even spin doctors are interested in how to solve problems and how to present information in an effective way. Part Two of the book shows that the way information is presented can influence how well it is understood, and hence reflects the likelihood or otherwise of solving a particular problem.

Although the book was originally written for a particular audience, I have tried to ensure that it is accessible to the interested lay reader. Some concepts and phrases that are familiar to students of psychology are therefore explained, and there is a glossary at the back of the book to remind you of what these concepts mean.

What's in it? I should make it clear right away that this book does not cover such topics as models of deductive reasoning, or judgement and decision making under uncertainty. It sticks to a fairly restricted conception of problem solving mainly from an information-processing perspective.

There are two implicit themes throughout the book. The first is simply the question of what kinds of things make it difficult to solve problems. The second

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