The Psychology of Problem Solving

  • Problems are a central part of human life. The Psychology of Problem Solving organizes in one volume much of what psychologists know about problem solving and the factors that contribute to its success or failure. There are chapters by leading experts in this field, including Miriam Bassok, Randall Engle, Anders Ericsson, Arthur Graesser, Keith Stanovich, Norbert Schwarz, and Barry Zimmerman, among others. The Psychology of Problem Solving is divided into four parts. Following an introduction that reviews the nature of problems and the history and methods of the field, Part II focuses on individual differences in, and the influence of, the abilities and skills that humans bring to problem situations. Part III examines motivational and emotional states and cognitive strategies that influence problem solving performance, while Part IV summarizes and integrates the various views of problem solving proposed in the preceding chapters.
  • The book contains chapters from leading researchers in the field of problem solving
  • Unlike other books on this topic, this one focuses on the factors that influence individuals’ problem solving performance

Read moreReviews & endorsements’A good book on any subject should summarise the current state of knowledge, and point to the important areas where further work is needed, and this book does both. Overall, this is a very stimulating collection, which all researchers in problem solving will wish to consult.’ Trends in Cognitive Sciences

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  • Date Published: August 2003
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521797412
  • length: 408 pages
  • dimensions: 231 x 125 x 24 mm
  • weight: 0.54kg
  • contains: 14 b/w illus. 6 tables
  • availability: Available
  • Table of ContentsPart I. Introduction:1. Recognizing, defining, and representing problems2. The acquisition of expert performance as problem solving: construction and modification of mediating mechanisms through deliberate practicePart II. Relevant Abilities and Skills:3. Is success or failure at problem solving complex problems related to intellectual ability?4. Creativity: a source of difficulty in problem solving5. Insights about insightful problem solving6. The role of working memory in problem solving7. Comprehension of text in problem solvingPart III. States and Strategies:8. Motivating self-regulated problem solvers9. Feeling and thinking: implications for problem solving10. The fundamental computational biases of human cognition: heuristics that (sometimes) impair decision making and problem solving11. Analogical transfer in problem solvingPart IV. Conclusions and Integration:12. Problem-solving, large/small, hard/easy problem-space/problem-solver: the issue of dichotomization.
  • EditorsJanet E. Davidson, Lewis and Clark College, Portland

    Robert J. Sternberg, Cornell University, New York

    ContributorsMiriam Bassok, Magda Campillo, Janet E. Davidson, Randall W. Engle, K. Anders Ericsson, Peter A. Frensch, Arthur C. Graesser, David Z. Hambrick, Kenneth Kotovsky, Todd I. Lubart, Christophe Mouchiroud, Adam J. Naples, Jean E. Pretz, Norbert Schwarz, Ian Skurnik, Keith E. Stanovich, Robert J. Sternberg, Dorit Wenke, Shannon Whitten, Barry J. Zimmerman


Problem Solving: Understanding and Dealing with Challenges

When life is going well, we think positively and we make healthy choices in our day-to-day lives. But when we are overwhelmed, struggling with negative, self-limiting thoughts or maladaptive habits or behaviors, life can seem unmanageable and out of control.

In my work as a clinical psychologist, I use this three-legged table to help my patients find clarity, support, and healing. There are times in our lives when it is critical that we pause, reflect, and try to understand what is going on in our bodies and minds. My three-legged table provides a means of doing just that. It has helped thousands of people understand their problems, and it can help you too. Here’s how it works.

Gaining an awareness of how problems manifestEvery problem we have in life manifests in three possible ways—physical symptoms, negative thoughts (cognitions), and maladaptive, negative behaviors. We can examine how our problems show up and play out in our lives by identifying our physical symptoms, and maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. With these insights and awareness, we can seek the support we need to address what’s happening and start to make positive changes.

A closer look at symptomsLet’s start with physical symptoms—the first leg of our three-legged table. A number of physical symptoms are triggered by our emotions. Anxiety, for example, is often accompanied by a number of distressing physical symptoms, including headaches, gastrointestinal problems, muscle tension, fatigue, and a racing heart, to name a few. Insomnia, another troubling physical symptom, is also often tied to emotions.

Moving along to the second leg of our table, our problems also manifest as negative, unhealthy thoughts or cognitions. We internalize past hurts and ingrained negative beliefs about how the world works, and our sense of worth in the world.

In low self-esteem, we often develop negative thoughts, which lead to self-depreciation, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, and negative thoughts about our abilities, relationships, the world, and opportunities.

Onward to leg number three—maladaptive choices, patterns, and behaviors. Often, we distract or self-soothe with any number of unhealthy, maladaptive behaviors and habits—from eating too much, eating too little, sleeping too much or too little, relying on alcohol and drugs to numb physical symptoms or escape negative thoughts to angry outbursts, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-harm, inflicting or tolerating abuse, mismanaging money, gambling or shopping addictions, staying in a job we dislike, and many more unhealthy behaviors.

Putting the table to useWhatever is troubling you, put your problem on the top of this three-legged table It can be used for work struggles, low self-esteem, becoming a caregiver to children or elderly parents, relationship troubles, inter-personal conflicts, anger, medical conditions, addictions (like food, alcohol, shopping, and gambling), chronic pain, money concerns, depression, anxiety: anything.

Mired in day-to-day physical symptoms, negative thoughts, and unhealthy patterns, we can feel overwhelmed and helpless. When we are stuck, awareness is the first step to creating positive change.

We can use the three-legged table to gain insight and awareness of the connections between our problems and symptoms, negative thoughts, and maladaptive behaviors. By identifying our symptoms in all three categories (legs), we can begin to address them effectively.

Seeking expert interventionsMost of us are comfortable seeking medical interventions for our physical symptoms, but less aware of what to do about our negative thoughts and maladaptive behaviors. Here, seeking therapy, and working with a mental health professional can be of great assistance in both healing and growth.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), for example, is a solutions-based form of therapy that addresses maladaptive thoughts by challenging and reframing the cognitive distortions and thoughts we hold onto. It also facilitates positive changes by slowly shifting maladaptive behaviors, choices, and habits to healthier, more adaptive ones.

With a deeper understanding and awareness of how problems manifest and play out, we are better able to navigate life’s challenges. We owe it to ourselves to pay attention to our physical and mental health and to create positive change where change is needed.

The first step to positive change—and to addressing our physical symptoms and troublesome thoughts and behaviors—is awareness. With this awareness, we can begin to create positive changes that tackle our problems head-on.

Put your problems on the tableYou can work on building awareness when you are struggling or feeling overwhelmed by:

  • Listing your troubling physical/physiological symptoms, negative thoughts, and maladaptive behaviors, choices, and patterns
  • Thinking about the areas of your life where you would like to create positive change
  • Making a commitment to yourself to reach out and find the supports you need to address your physical symptoms, negative thoughts, and behaviors
  • Bringing in the resources you need to address problematic thoughts and behaviors and address your physical symptoms

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


How to Evaluate Problem Solving in a Business

Billie Nordmeyer works as a consultant advising small businesses and Fortune 500 companies on performance improvement initiatives, as well as SAP software selection and implementation. During her career, she has published business and technology-based articles and texts. Nordmeyer holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting, a Master of Arts in international management and a Master of Business Administration in finance.

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