Problem Solving, Essay – genius homework essays

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Problem Solving

Human ability to solve novel problems greatly surpasses that of any other species,

and this ability depends on the advanced evolution of the prefrontal cortex in

humans. We have already noted the role of the prefrontal cortex in a number of

higher-level cognitive functions: language, imagery, and memory. It is generally

thought that the prefrontal cortex performs more than these specific functions, however,

and plays a major role in the overall organization of behavior.


The regions of the

prefrontal cortex that we have discussed so far tend to be ventral (toward the bottom)

and posterior (toward the back), and many of these regions are left lateralized.

In contrast, dorsal (toward the top), anterior (toward the front), and right-hemisphere

prefrontal structures tend to be more involved in the organization of behavior. These

are the prefrontal regions that have expanded the most in the human brain.

Goel and Grafman (2000) describe a patient, PF, who suffered damage to his

right anterior prefrontal cortex as the result of a stroke. Like many patients with damage

to the prefrontal cortex, PF appears normal and even intelligent, and he scored in

the superior range on an intelligence test. In fact, he performed well on most tests,

although he did have difficulty with the Tower of Hanoi problem described later in this

chapter. Nonetheless, for all these surface appearances of normality, there were profound

intellectual deficits. He had been a successful architect before his stroke but

was forced to retire due to loss of the ability to design. He was able to get some work

as a draftsman. Goel and Grafman gave PF a problem that involved redesigning their

laboratory space. Although he was able to speak coherently about the problem, he

was unable to make any real progress on the solution. A comparably trained architect

without brain damage achieved a good solution in a couple of hours. It seems that the

stroke affected only PF’s most highly developed intellectual abilities.

This chapter and Chapter 9 will look at what we know about human problem

solving. In this chapter, we will answer the following questions: • What does it mean to characterize human problem solving as a search of a

problem space? • How do humans learn methods, called operators, for searching the problem



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• How do humans select among different operators for searching a problem

space? • How can past experience affect the availability of different operators and the

success of problem-solving efforts?

The Nature of Problem Solving

A Comparative Perspective on Problem Solving

Figure 8.1 shows the relative sizes of the prefrontal cortex in various mammals

and illustrates the dramatic increase in humans. This increase supports the

advanced problem solving that only humans are capable of. Nonetheless, one

can find instances of interesting problem solving in other species, particularly

in the higher apes such as chimpanzees. The study of problem solving in other

species offers perspective on our own abilities. Köhler (1927) performed some

of the classic studies on chimpanzee problem solving. Köhler was a famous

German gestalt psychologist who came to America in the 1930s. During World

War I, he found himself trapped on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. On the

island, he found a colony of captive chimpanzees, which he studied, taking

particular interest in the problem-solving behavior of the animals. His best

participant was a chimpanzee named Sultan. One problem posed to Sultan was

FIGURE 8.1 The relative proportions of the frontal lobe given over to the prefrontal cortex in

six mammals. Note that these brains are not drawn to scale and that the human brain is really

much larger in absolute size. (After Fuster, 1989. Adapted by permission of the publisher. © 1989 by Raven Press.)

Squirrel monkey Cat Rhesus monkey

Dog Chimpanzee Human

Brain Structures

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