Monday, August 26, 2013

Creative Problem Solving Pt. III - Moments of Insight by Constraint Relaxation

In the previous post we continued learning about creative problem solving through moments of insights. Prior knowledge (mental sets) biases our initial representation of a problem.[1] Oftentimes the initial representation is useful in solving the problem. However, if the initial problem representation does not provide a solution for this particular problem an impasse will result.[2] The problem solver will feel as if the problem is unsolvable.[3] A representational change is necessary in order to overcome the impasse[4]. Moment of insight describes the “aha!” moment when one overcomes the impasse.[5]
Ollinger et al. theorize that during the impasse unconscious processes decrease the activation of repeatedly accessed (but incorrect!) solution procedures.[6] As a result, less active and potentially correct procedures emerge.[7] This theory fits well with evidence of incubation as a means of increasing creative problem solving.[8] Incubation is exactly that; putting a problem aside momentarily for the incorrect strategy to decrease in priming and allowing correct strategies that have been hindered by the repetitive activation of the incorrect strategy to come into awareness.[9]

Representational Change through Constraint Relaxation
Constraint relaxation is one of three known strategies helpful for representational changes that lead to insight. When faced with a problem, problem solvers think to see if it reminds them of one they have previously encountered.[10] They then impose constraints on the new problem relevant to the previously encountered problems.[11] If these constraints are useful for solving this particular problem, then a solution will likely be found.[12] However, if the constraint is inappropriate then the problem solver will likely face an impasse.[13] Therefore relaxing these constraints is a useful strategy for overcoming the impasse.[14]
For example, seeking to increase your revenue in a business venture is normally subject to the constraint of limiting liabilities.[15] However, if incurring liabilities in the short term is overshadowed by the prospect of gain in the long term, then it might be necessary to incur extra liabilities. In this scenario problem solving is less about searching current possibilities (short-term profit) than redefining what to search for. To make long term profits perhaps one should search for emergent markets with growth potential and infrastructure or personnel investments to make first.  

In the next post, we will discuss chunk decomposition as another means of achieving representational changes necessary for moments of insights.

[1] Günther Knoblich, et al. Constraint Relaxation and Chunk Decomposition in Insight Problem Solving, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 25.6 (1999), 1535.
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Michael Ollinger, Gary Jones, and Gunther Knoblich, Investigating the Effect of Mental set on Insight Problem Solving, Experimental Psychology Vol. 55 (2008), 271.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] See Knoblich, supra note 1.
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Id.
[14] Id.
[15] Id. (This example was loosely based off Knoblich's analogy of opening a door normally under a constraint of not breaking it which needs to be relaxed in certain situations, like an emergency.)

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