Fixation on Failure: Failing to Solve a Problem Hinders Subsequent Problem-Solving Ability


This study explores how previous experience affects current performance. Despite the vast amount of research on transfer and learning effect in problem-solving, as far as we know little to no work has been done on how failure to solve a problem affects subsequent problem-solving ability. The current experiment explores this issue and the role of working memory in the process. Two variables were manipulated – the experienced success or failure on a single multiplication problem and the amount of working memory resources required by the following addition problem. Results show negative impact of failure on subsequent process-time: the problem-solving time for the addition problem was higher for participants who failed to solve the multiplication problem. There was no interaction between experienced performance and the WM resources required by the subsequent problem. These results suggest that researchers must probably be careful to avoid fixation on failure as a confounding variable.

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