Throughout our entire lives we are expected and required to solve problems. Everyday we encounter dilemmas that need to be solved, from deciding what we should have for dinner to complicated mathematical formulae that have baffled even the brightest mathematicians for centuries. Often times, in order to solve these more difficult problems we have to do what as known as think-outside-the-box, meaning to ignore traditional strategies that in this case have been unsuccessful and consider the problem in ways that have never been considered. However, it has been shown time and time again that this is far more difficult than it would seem, and many highly intelligent people have failed to break out this restrictive way of thinking. This phenomena is known as fixation, and it’s presence can be (and likely has been) experienced by all of us at one time or another.
Fixation is a process in which people focus on a particular characteristic of a problem that prevents them arriving at a satisfactory conclusion. One of the most notable forms of this sort of fixation is functional fixation, in which the individual become so fixated on an item’s intended use or the manner it was used in the past that they cannot consider using it in any other way (Goldstein 2012, pg 329). This is not the only way that fixation can effect us. Fixation can also occur when we fail to consider certain actions simply because they were never a possibility before. A good example of this is certain video games I have played in the past. The best example I have for this from my experience with various video games. In most video the player is often presented certain obstacles that must be overcome. These obstacles often have only one solution to overcome them. For example, in the Pokemon series of games the player will often encounter small trees blocking their paths that can only be removed with the move cut. No alternative is ever presented to remove the trees. You can not use the move slash, which would imply a similar action, nor can you burn them down with a fire based move or even climb over them. This kind of scenario is common in many games and has caused me some difficulty with more open games that allow for solving problems in various ways. For example, in another game I had played I was surprised when a friend told me that I didn’t have to fire on a group of unarmed soldiers that were attacking me, but instead could disperse them by firing into the air. In most games, enemy combatants will always attack the player and will not retreat or surrender for any reason, continuing to fight no matter how outmatched until the player kills them. Because the option had never been presented to me in a virtual setting before, a possibility I would have likely considered in real life never even crossed my mind in this context.
Goldstein, B. E. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind Research and Everyday Experience (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.