Author Archives: Sabrina Nicole Angelique Cooper

Problem Solving in Daily Life

I am a professional problem-solver. Okay, so my job title is not actually “problem-solver”, but really, it is the vast majority of what I do in my job. I am a manager, overseeing anywhere from 40-130 employees at any given point in time in a store, while also solving problems for customers. Problems can be well-defined or ill-defined; well-defined problems have a definite solution where ill-defined problems are more of a grey area, lacking in a definite goal or a definite method to arrive at a goal (Goldstein, 2011).  The majority of the problems I solve are of the ill-defined variety, rather than the well-defined type of problem that has been studied more, but I will show you how some of the cognitive processes are the same in solving ill-defined problems in daily life.

Problems also can be a routine problem or a non-routine problem based on whether or not the individual working to solve the problem knows how to reach a solution or has to come up with a novel way to reach a solution (Mayer & Wittrock, 2009). As a manager, I am the one who gets called to help solve the non-routine problems, having to sometimes think of creative solutions to challenging problems. This type of problem solving uses divergent thinking; that is, it involves thinking through many potential answers to questions that may work to find something that is a good fit (Goldstein, 2011). This is in contrast to convergent thinking, which is when there is one single correct answer and the individual working on the problem gets closer and their thinking narrows in on the correct solution (Goldstein, 2011).

I have been working in my particular field for 14 years, which has given me a bit of expertise. This can be advantageous in solving problems in that I have a lot of background to reference when working on a solution to problems. Experts tend to have better results at problem solving in their area of expertise than someone who is not an expert does (Goldstein, 2011). Not only do experts have more knowledge about their subject of expertise, they also are better able to access it in their minds and better able to categorize the problem than a novice would (Goldstein, 2011). The only downfall to having expertise is that the expert can sometimes get hung up on the knowledge they already have and end up lacking necessary creativity to solve the problem (Goldstein, 2011).

A customer approaches me, looking for the marshmallows. This looks like a fairly well-defined problem, with a definite goal and single answer to it. The goal and answer are locating the marshmallows. The solution is to show the customer where they are located in the store. A well-defined, routine problem, which is encountered many times a day in my work, is solved. Now, a customer approaches me with another problem. This customer wants to participate in the promotion on pomegranates, but does not know how to eat this item or what it can be used for. This is an ill-defined problem, with many solutions. This is where expertise on the product can come into solving the problem, but also some creativity as well, since there are multiple solutions of what the particular product could be used for.

Problem solving is something that we all do on a daily basis in our work, at home and in school. There is more to learn regarding how we solve problems but we already know how creativity and expertise are involved in solving our routine and non-routine problems.




Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience (3rd Ed.). California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.


Mayer, R., & Wittrock, M. (2009, December 23rd). Problem Solving. Retrieved from


Vervet Monkeys or Velvet Monkeys?

In my anthropology class, I have been studying primates. One species in particular stands out in my mind as I have encountered this species in an article I read months ago. The species in question: vervet monkeys. The article I had originally seen them mentioned in had associated vervet with the similar sounding word, velvet. When reading about this species of monkey, I am associating them with velvet, so they have stood out amongst the species studied. This leads me to wonder, why is it that thinking of these vervet monkeys as velvet monkeys makes them so much easier to remember?

Associating the word vervet to a familiar word, already in long term memory, would be a form of elaborative rehearsal (Goldstein, 2011). Elaborative rehearsal is a way to help move information from short term or working memory into long term memory by associating the item with something already in long term memory, such as associating the word vervet with the word velvet (Goldstein, 2011). This also illustrates the depth of processing I used when I was reading about these primates; this particular item shows a couple of levels of processing. I was using shallow processing when I was connecting the word velvet to vervet, as I was not really paying attention to the meanings of the words when the connection was made (Goldstein, 2011).

Without even doing so intentionally, I created an association in my mind between these primates and soft, plush fabric. Goldstein (2011) actually recommends this as a way to study more effectively, by elaborating and making connections between the new material you are studying and things you already know. It probably would have been better for me to associate something that was connected to the meaning of the words instead of the similarity of the word to something that is in reality unrelated to the vervet monkey.

Studying is most effective when the connection made is based on the meaning of the terms studied, not the similarity between two words whose meaning is unrelated (Ricker, 2011). This connection between the words may make it easier for me to remember the name of the monkeys, but it does nothing to help me remember any really relevant information about them beyond what they are called. A more effective strategy may have been to create a story relating the vervet monkeys to the alarm calls they are able to make that are specific to a particular type of predator (Larsen, 2014).

Regardless of how effective this particular connection will be when it is time to take my anthropology exam, there is no doubt I will remember the name of these monkeys as the primates whose name sounds like velvet. Perhaps this connection does benefit my studying of the subject, but I believe more thought and deeper connections to relevant material within my long term memory will most likely serve me better for exam time.





Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience (3rd Ed.). California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.


Larsen, C.S. (2014). Our Origins: Discovering Physical Anthropology (3rd ed.). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


Ricker, J. (2011, November 5th). Using Elaborative Rehearsal to Study for Tests. In PSY 101 – Introduction to Psychology (Section 5). Retrieved from

Perception and the Tiny Snake

It is absolutely amazing how quickly we perceive the elements of our environments. About a month ago, I went for a run near my home in southern York County, Pennsylvania, which I do on a (fairly) regular basis. We have the absolute best area for running/walking right near my home, as part of the road we live on is currently closed to traffic due to a bridge that is in desperate need of repair. I take full advantage of this free “track”, where I can run or walk with little worry of being run over by a car. It is a dirt road that goes through a forest, so there are plenty of sticks, twigs and leaves on the road and I frequently see deer, squirrels and chipmunks during my runs. This particular day, as I was running, I noticed something that caused me to stop. Amongst the twigs and gravel, there was a tiny snake. I had been moving at a pretty swift speed and this snake was only about 3-4 inches long and mostly black. If I had not spotted this snake, I would have most likely stepped on it.

Luckily, it was a very easily identifiable, non-venomous species of snake: the northern ring neck snake, Diadophis punctatus edwardsi (Vigil & Willson, n.d.). The part that I find most intriguing is that I was able to identify this creature as a snake, in spite of the fact that I was moving and it was small and well camouflaged amongst the twigs and leaves. This week’s lesson on perception brought this particular story to mind, causing me to evaluate how exactly I perceived this tiny snake and determined that it was a snake and not a twig.

Seeing the light reflected from the snake began the series of events that lead to my perception and identification of it. This reflection set off a chain of electrical signals sent from my eyes into my brain, causing the activation of specific neurons that are tuned to fire due to specific orientations of things that are seen (Goldstein, 2011). The shape of the snake consisted of geons, parts or shapes that can be observed and help us to identify the object being visually perceived (Goldstein, 2011). Even though I may not have seen the entire snake, just seeing the majority of geons allowed me to perceive and identify the object as a snake (Goldstein, 2011).

One aspect of perception that helped in identifying this snake is semantic regularities: this particular object is something that would normally occur in this type of setting (Goldstein, 2011). In this way, I used my previous experiences and knowledge to know that a snake is a normal item to find in a forest setting, so the object was, quite possibly a snake. Inside of my brain, I was using the what pathway from my striate cortex to the temporal lobe to identify what this object was in my environment and I used the where pathway from the striate cortex to the parietal lobe to determine where the snake was in the environment, allowing me to react appropriately (in this case, to step around the snake instead of on it) (Goldstein, 2011).

The most fascinating part of all of this is that all of these processes were engaged so quickly. In a matter of seconds, I was able to identify this tiny snake as a living creature and react. Our brains are incredible processing organs and we aren’t even consciously aware of what they are doing, even during such a mundane event as finding a snake while running through the woods.






Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience (3rd Ed.). California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.


Vigil, S & Willson, J.D. (N.D.). Species Profile: Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus). Retrieved from