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Investigating the effect of mental set on insight problem solving

by Michael Öllinger, Gary Jones, Günther Knoblich
Experimental Psychology ()

Abstract

Mental set is the tendency to solve certain problems in a fixed way based on previous solutions to similar problems. The moment of insight occurs when a problem cannot be solved using solution methods suggested by prior experience and the problem solver suddenly realizes that the solution requires different solution methods. Mental set and insight have often been linked together and yet no attempt thus far has systematically examined the interplay between the two. Three experiments are presented that examine the extent to which sets of noninsight and insight problems affect the subsequent solutions of insight test problems. The results indicate a subtle interplay between mental set and insight: when the set involves noninsight problems, no mental set effects are shown for the insight test problems, yet when the set involves insight problems, both facilitation and inhibition can be seen depending on the type of insight problem presented in the set. A two process model is detailed to explain these findings that combines the representational change mechanism with that of proceduralization.

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