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Problem solving

Ball, Linden J.; Butler, Laurie T.; Sherman, Susan M.; St Clair-Thompson, Helen


Linden J. Ball

Laurie T. Butler

Helen St Clair-Thompson


Humans are excellent problem solvers. In this chapter, we explore what we mean by a problem, and we look at examples of both simple and more complex problems. We also consider the representations and processes that people use to solve them. We explore different types of problems, for example, ones with many solutions and ones with a single solution, and how people are able to solve them. We also discuss an experience you may be familiar with, that ‘aha’ moment which comes when you solve a problem you were struggling with. What leads to that breakthrough and how can we help it along? We consider some theories of problem solving and the role that prior experience and analogising play, as well as drawing on neuropsychological evidence. Throughout the chapter, there are lots of hands-on problems for you to have a go at, as well as some examples of where complex problem solving (or failing to problem solve) has had an impact in practice.


Ball, L. J., Butler, L. T., Sherman, S. M., & St Clair-Thompson, H. (2023). Problem solving. In Cognitive Psychology in a Changing World. (1). Taylor & Francis (Routledge).

Online Publication Date Dec 7, 2023
Publication Date Nov 7, 2023
Deposit Date Apr 15, 2024
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Edition 1
Book Title Cognitive Psychology in a Changing World
Chapter Number 2
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