“It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe.” –Robert W. Service
Problem solving consists of a series of complex mental processes that are implemented multiple times daily. Often without conscious effort, human beings assess problems and troubleshoot obstacles in attempts to reach desired goals. Information that is essential to the problem at hand is quickly discerned from irrelevant information and the problem solving process begins.
Representations of an abstract problem are often more easily understood when converted to symbols. As in mathematics, abstract such as ideas unknown or unidentified numbers are represented by letters that act as symbols to aid in the problem solving process. The revelation of symbol manipulation as applied to psychology views the mind as a “symbol-manipulating system” in the information processing realm. Most abstract problems are converted to representational symbols in an effort to act upon the abstract concept. See the link below, “Cognitive Psychology and Information Processing” for more information on symbols.
Another form of problem organization is to cover all possible combinations and solutions to the problem. Forming a matrix in order to highlight various solutions allows the problem-solver to try multiple solutions and to choose the best-suited option.
The context in which a problem is presented plays an important role. Without the proper understanding of the situation and what the intended outcome is, problem solving cannot be efficient. Social context determines what methods people use to solve problems and also what resources are available. For instance, age often affects the haste and emotional involvement people apply to problems.
Strategies and Rules of Thumb (Heuristics)
Very time-consuming and often impossible without the use of computer technology, algorithms are specific to a problem but will always produce a solution.
“Live your life each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance toward the summit keeps the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to be observed from each new vantage point. Climb slowly, steadily, enjoying each passing moment; and the view from the summit will serve as a fitting climax for the journey.”- Harold B. Melchart
Just as one would climb a mountain, the hill-climbing steadily bring the problem-solver closer to the summit of attaining the goal
“Men trip not on mountains, they stumble on stones.”-Unknown
This form of problem solving breaks the problem into smaller, more manageable problems in an effort to reach the larger end result.
Much like the use of quotations to express an idea to overcome the problem of understanding, the use of analogies transforms the solution of a previous problem into the solution of the new problem.
Relatively new to problem solving in psychology, mind mapping is melding of matrix building, exhaustive research and the hierarchical tree diagram method. Mind mapping consists of covering all ideas and how they are interrelated to each other when working through a problem.
 Cognitive Psychology and Information Processing
 Much of psychology tends to rely on model building to explain the theories of various fields.
 The following webpage highlights matrix forming to solve problems in a business environment.
 Younger individuals typically enlist stronger emotion and tend to try to solve problems quicker than the more thought-out assessments of older adults.
The algorithm of the best possible solution is applied to medicine.
 Page 327 of The Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning discusses how at each smaller part of the problem-solving process, the end result seems closer and closer.
 A study at
 Mind mapping is a visual representation of all the possible ideas related to the issue.
9 General basics on all topics covered here.
10 Problem solving techniques are being taught to young children in an effort to prevent violence.
Here are more links to help you further your research on problem solving:
This is a Wikipedia site giving a broad overview of cognitive psychology's concepts of problem solving.
This is a link to a paper on "Common Sense Problem Solving and Cognitive Research" written by Howard C. McAllister, a professor of Physics at the University of Hawaii.
This is a link to The World of Psychology website and an interesting example problem.
These are some more lateral thinking problems and solutions.
These are interesting situation puzzles and their answers.
This is an Encyclopedia Brittanica article on problem solving skills in animals.
This is a site that discusses using problem-solving techniques to teach children.
This article discusses the ability of apes to perform problem solving tasks.
This webpage was brought to you by Kelley Rockwell
Contributions by Mark Young