Analogical Problem Solving

Applying Visual Representations and Contextual Relevance
Hunter Coury and Chelsea Elder
Laboratory in Cognition, Northeastern University

Introduction and Background Method and Design Results
Participants: 32 NU Undergraduates (19-22) engaged in analogical problem solving task. Analogous Validity of Low Intensity
Analogical Problem Solving: The process of using information from one domain
(source problem) to help solve a problem from a different domain (target problem). Materials + Procedure: Solution
• A Source Problem is characterized as a problem solved in the past, which contains • Source Problem Relevance Categories • Distraction Task 100
simple subject matter. Generally, the answer to this problem is provided. • College Relevant [College/Campus] • Demographics Sheet 80

Validity Score
• Non-College Relevant [Fortress] • Target Problem Solution Options 60
• A Target Problem is a problem that is to be answered using the source problem. • Image Presence Categories • One most analogous solution [Low 40 Image
The subject matter is difficult and from an unfamiliar domain. • No Image present Intensity Solution]
20 No Image
• Image present • Two distraction solutions
Framework for Analogous Problem Solving: In order for a participant to successfully
Source Problem (Fortress / College): College Relevant Non-College Relevant
solve the problem, they must uncover the general abstraction of the source problem’s
A small country/campus was ruled from a strong fortress/college by a dictator/dean. The Source Problem
framework in order to apply the answer of the source problem to the target problem.
fortress/college was situated in the middle of the country, surrounded by farms/remote homes Analogous Validity: Participants’ judgment on how valid or correct the most analogous
and villages/small businesses. Many roads led to the fortress/college through the countryside. A solution is to the target problem
Background Research:
• Analogical Problem Solving: People may develop solutions to complex problems by rebel general/student president vowed to capture/vandalize the fortress/college. The Analogous Endorsement of Low Intensity
using analogous problems from disparate domains. Analogical problem solving general/student president knew that an attack by his entire army/student body would Solution
plays a creative role in problem solving. Comprehension of the source problem, capture/vandalize the fortress/college. He gathered his army/students at the head of one of the 0.8

Endorsement Score
recognizing the similarities between the two problems, and applying the analogy roads, ready to launch a full-scale direct attack. However, the general/student president then
are all necessary steps to successful analogical problems solving. 3 learned that the dictator/dean had planted mines/traps on each of the roads. The mines/traps 0.6
were set so that small bodies of men could pass over them safely, since the dictator/dean needed 0.4
• Imagery: Perceiving information in both imagery and words increases the to move his troops/staff to and from the fortress/campus. However, any large force would
0.2 No Image
likelihood for later recall of that information. Processing information in two detonate the mines/target. Not only would this blow up/damage the road, but it would also
modalities may have an effect on how we perceive and therefore later apply that destroy many neighbouring buildings. It therefore seemed impossible to capture/vandalize the 0
information. Assessing information with visual representations may construct more fortress/college. However, the general/student president devised a simple plan. He divided his College Relevant Non-College Relevant
comprehensive abstractions needed to problem solve analogously.1 army/students into small groups and dispatched each group to the head of a different road. When Source Problem
all was ready he gave the signal and each group marched down a different road. Each group Analogous Endorsement: Participants’ judgment on the low intensity solution’s validity as
• Contextual Relevance: Deep Level Processing of information allows for better continued down its road to the fortress/college so that the entire army/student body arrived compared to the distraction solutions
recall of the same information. Processing information in more relevant contexts together at the fortress/college at the same time. In this way, the general/student president
may encourage greater comprehension of the source problem and its application Image and Relevance Effect on Cognitive
captured/vandalized the fortress/college and overthrew the dictator/dean.
to the target problem.2 Flexibility
Source Problem Images: 2

Flexibility Score
Learning is a process of schema development; it requires assimilation and
accommodation. The use of an analogy simplifies these otherwise, difficult processes. Image
To understand new information (especially in an academic setting) requires a 0.5
No Image
preexisting network of other information. 0
College Relevant Non-College
We assume our means of comprehension and problem solving to be influenced by Relevant
Source Problem
multiple environmental factors. We hope to find exactly what these factors are. We
Cognitive Flexibility: Participants’ judgment of the number of solutions endorsed above 70%
take our preceding knowledge of the Dual Coding Theory and the Deep Processing
Theory and apply them to the domain of analogical problem solving.

By translating the fortress problem into the college relevant problem, we maximize
the relevancy of the source domain. By adding images, we increase one’s capability for Target Problem:
Findings and Discussion
• When an image was present, participants performed better on both the non relevant problem
finding abstractions from the given information. These manipulations to the Suppose you are a doctor faced with a patient who has a malignant tumour in his stomach.
and the college relevant problem. However, when an image was not present, participants
presentation of information serve to enhance the problem solving process. It is impossible to operate on the patient; but unless the tumour is destroyed the patient
will die. There is a kind of ray that can be used to destroy the tumour. If the rays are
performed better on the non relevant problem then the college relevant problem.
directed at the tumour at a sufficiently high intensity the tumour will be destroyed. Additionally, the presence of an image provided a significant boost to performance on the
Unfortunately, at this intensity the healthy tissue that the rays pass through on the way to college relevant problem.
the tumour will also be destroyed. At lower intensities the rays are harmless to the healthy
Central Questions tissue but they will not affect the tumour either. What type of procedure might be used to
• Review of the analogous endorsement results indicate that the presence of an image did not
have an effect for the non relevant problem. Comparatively, images had a trending
• Does the inclusion of relevant information in a source problem improve the destroy the tumour with the rays, and at the same time avoid destroying the healthy significance for the college relevant problem. People are more likely to endorse the low-
participants’ ability to problem solve analogously as compared to a source tissue? intensity solution when they are provided an image and college relevant problem.
problem that is non-relevant?
Target Problem Solution Options: • People display greater cognitive flexibility in the non relevant problem than the college
• Does the presence of visual information/representation aid individuals in solving Most Analogous Solution: relevant problem. Whereas, the presence of an image diminishes cognitive flexibility across
analogical problem sets as compared to individuals who do not perceive any • Apply low-intensity rays from several different directions so they simultaneously relevance type.
imagery? converge at the tumor.

Distraction Solutions:
• Is there an interaction between contextual relevance and visual information as it • Send high-intensity rays down the esophagus so they strike the tumor.
1. Clark, J. C. & Paivio, A. (1991). Dual Coding Theory and Education. Educational Psychology Review. Vol. 3, No.3, 149-210.

applies to analogical problem solving? • Insert a tube through the healthy tissue to the tumor, and then send high- intensity
2. Craik, & Tulving (1975). Depth of Processing and the Retention of Words in Episodic Memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Vol. 104, No. 3, 268-294.
rays through the tube to the tumor.

3. Gick, M. L. & Holyak, K. J. (1980). Analogical Problem Solving. Cognitive Psychology, 12, 306-355.