Interrupted: The roles of distributed effort and incubation in preventing fixation and generating problem solutions.

Abstract

Fixation on inappropriate concepts is a key barrier to problem solving. Previous research has shown that continuous work is likely to cause repeated retrieval of those concepts, resulting in increased fixation. Accordingly, distributing effort across problems through multiple, brief, and interlaced sessions (distributed effort) should prevent such fixation and in turn enhance problem solving. This study examined whether distributed effort can provide an advantage for problem solving, particularly for problems that can induce fixation (Experiment 1), and whether and how incubation can be combined with distributed effort to further enhance performance (Experiment 2). Remote Associates Test (RAT) problems were used as the problem-solving tasks. Half of them (i.e., misleading RAT) were more likely to mislead individuals to fixate on incorrect associates than the other half. Experiments revealed a superiority of distributed over massed effort on misleading RAT performance and a differing time course of incubation for the massed and distributed groups. We conclude that distributed effort facilitates problem solving, most likely via overcoming fixation. Cognitive mechanisms other than the commonly posited forgetting of inappropriate ideas may occur during incubation to facilitate problem solving. The experiments in this article offer support for the occurrence of spreading activation during incubation.

DOI: 10.3758/s13421-016-0684-x

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Cite this paper

@article{Sio2017InterruptedTR, title={Interrupted: The roles of distributed effort and incubation in preventing fixation and generating problem solutions.}, author={Ut Na Sio and Kenneth Kotovsky and Jonathan Cagan}, journal={Memory & cognition}, year={2017}, volume={45 4}, pages={553-565} }