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01-03-2014 | Original Article | Uitgave 2/2014

Psychological Research 2/2014

The dynamics of search, impasse, and representational change provide a coherent explanation of difficulty in the nine-dot problem

Psychological Research > Uitgave 2/2014
Michael Öllinger, Gary Jones, Günther Knoblich


The nine-dot problem is often used to demonstrate and explain mental impasse, creativity, and out of the box thinking. The present study investigated the interplay of a restricted initial search space, the likelihood of invoking a representational change, and the subsequent constraining of an unrestricted search space. In three experimental conditions, participants worked on different versions of the nine-dot problem that hinted at removing particular sources of difficulty from the standard problem. The hints were incremental such that the first suggested a possible route for a solution attempt; the second additionally indicated the dot at which lines meet on the solution path; and the final condition also provided non-dot locations that appear in the solution path. The results showed that in the experimental conditions, representational change is encountered more quickly and problems are solved more often than for the control group. We propose a cognitive model that focuses on general problem-solving heuristics and representational change to explain problem difficulty.

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