Understanding Different Kinds of Mental Fixation
Koppel, Rebecca H.
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Problems can be difficult to solve because people become fixated by exposure to misleading information, or fixated by misleading prior knowledge. The two instances of fixation feel like they’re qualitatively different, but whether there are different types of fixation that may be overcome by different means has received little attention. Three experiments tested whether fixation that is experimentally-induced versus induced by prior knowledge can be shown to be qualitatively different via an individual-differences approach. To examine these questions, both kinds of fixation were explored in a word-fragment completion task (based on Smith &Tindell, 1997) which contained words that were orthographically similar but impossible to solve with music-related terms. To manipulate experimentally-induced fixation, half of the participants saw music-related misleading primes prior to problem solving. To manipulate fixation due to prior knowledge, experiments compared a novice musician sample to an “expert” sample of musicians. Restraint, updating, and retrieval-induced forgetting were assessed to explore how different “flavors” of executive functioning predict problem solving. Results suggest distinct roles for the three measures based on priming condition, expertise, and warnings that solutions would not be related to music. Updating positively predicted correct solutions for all participants when a warning was provided, while restraint tended to positively predict performance only for expert musicians. Retrieval induced forgetting negatively predicted correct solutions when fixation was experimentally induced and when a warning was provided.