Functional Fixedness

Functional fixedness HeartyPsychFunctional fixedness also called functional fixity or functional embeddedness is a type of cognitive bias, which causes an inability to solve a problem requiring the use of a specific object, the impairment being the result of recent use of an object for a different function, or by recent perception of the object performing a different function.

The phenomenon was first described in 1935 by the German-born US psychologist Karl Duncker, who experimented with five problems, including what he called the box problem in which three small-lighted candles were to be attached to a wooden door at eye level. The subjects were presented with many objects, including a matchbox containing matches, a similar-sized cardboard box containing small candles, and a third similar box containing thumbtacks. The solution was to empty the three boxes, to fix them to the door with thumbtacks, and to stand a lighted candle in each box. While only 43 per cent of Duncker’s subjects solved the box problem in that form, 100 per cent of a control group solved it when presented with the same objects but with the three boxes empty, thus avoiding functional fixedness arising from perceiving the boxes as containers of other objects.

Across all five problems, Duncker found that the functional fixedness of crucial objects reduced the number of solutions by almost a half. Duncker pointed out that the phenomenon applies not only to physical objects or tools, but also to mental objects or concepts. An English translation from Duncker’s classic article in German was published in the journal Psychological Monographs in 1945. Functional fixedness can hamper a person’s ability to solve problems.

Functional fixedness prevents people from finding novel ways of using the objects that are familiar for solving particular problems, for solving other problems that may arise. Children who are five or younger are not fixed, they come up with new ways to use familiar objects during play. As they grow they become functionally fixed as a result of adults correcting them. By practicing creative thinking, functional fixedness can be avoided.

The Spotlight Effect

woman in spotlightThe Spotlight Effect is a cognitive bias that makes people believe that others notice them more than they actually do. In other words, spotlight phenomenon makes people overestimate the extent to which others notice, observe, or judge them and the extent to which others remember things about them. It is, in some cases, the major reason behind people getting self-conscious in a large gathering and sometimes, becomes the cause of social anxiety. It is found to be more prevalent among teenagers, who spent plenty of time thinking about how others will perceive them. The cause of the spotlight effect is the innate tendency to forget that even though one is the center of one’s own world, he or she is not the center of everyone else’s. The term was coined by Thomas Gilovich and Kenneth Savitsky. The phenomenon first appeared in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science in 1999.

The Baader–Meinhof Effect or Frequency Illusion

Text written on grey backgroundThe BAADER–MEINHOF EFFECT, also known as frequency illusion, is a cognitive bias and refers to a phenomenon where things or objects that an individual has recently noticed like a name, a word, etc. suddenly seems to appear with strange frequency afterwards. In this phenomenon, the person who has recently paid attention to something obscure or unfamiliar begins to encounter that newly learned information in unanticipated situations. It gives an impression that out of nowhere, the new information is rapidly surrounding him. The reason is that the brain starts noticing the thing, which was once unfamiliar. One interesting thing about this phenomenon is that it is not named after the linguist who did research on it. Rather it is named after a West German militant group which was founded in 1970. However, the militant group has nothing to do with the phenomenon. It was named after the group when a reader of St Paul Pioneer Press first noticed the mention and then randomly heard two references within 24 hours out of nowhere. The phenomenon is a result of two cognitive processes namely selective attention and confirmation bias.