Negative Transfer in Matchstick Arithmetic Insight Problems


The current experiment examined whether successful solution on one type of problem, indicating the relaxation of a constraint, had a negative impact on subsequent problems that did not involve the same constraints. One hundred and forty-five participants solved a series of matchstick arithmetic problems. In one group, participants were given three relatively simple “chunk decomposition” problems (CD). A second group solved one “operator decomposition” (OD) problem, involving more constraints, between the baseline CD problem and two later problems. The third group solved three OD problems, similarly placed. Results indicated that successful solution of an OD problem produced negative transfer to subsequent CD problems in the form of longer solution times. Participants who did not successfully solve OD problems did not slow down on subsequent problems; they displayed evidence of positive transfer. The findings were interpreted with reference to theories of constraint relaxation and its relationship to problem solving performance.

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