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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Neural basis of thinking: laboratory problems versus real‐world problems

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Cognitive psychologists have long argued about the reality and significance of the distinction between well‐structured and ill‐structured problems. Laboratory problems are usually well‐structured, whereas real‐world problems have both well‐structured and ill‐structured components. This article shows how the neuropsychological data reinforce this distinction and suggests how this distinction may help to explain a puzzle about discontinuous performance of some neurological patients in laboratory and real‐world problem situations. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Figure 1.

The problem space is a computational work arena shaped by the dual constraints, of the structure of the information processing system and the structure of the task environment. It is specified in terms of state space, operators, evaluation functions, and control strategies. See Ref 3 for the classic discussion of each of these components. See Ref 4 for a particularly clear discussion of the meta‐theoretical constraints. See Ref 5 for discussion of meta‐theoretical constraints, structure of task environments, and their consequences for the structure of the problem space.

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Figure 2.

The Tower of Hanoi Puzzle consists of three pegs and several disks of varying size. Given a start state, in which the disks are stacked on one or more pegs, the task is to reach a goal state in which the disks are stacked in descending order on a specified peg. There are three constraints on the transformation of the start state into the goal state. (1) Only one disk may be moved at a time. (2) Any disk not being currently moved must remain on the pegs. (3) A larger disk may not be placed on a smaller disk.

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Figure 3.

Aspects of real‐world problem solving. Unlike the state space for well‐structured problems, the state space for ill‐structured real‐world problems must support different problem‐solving phases, which need to be supported by different representational systems, cognitive processes, and computational mechanisms physical symbol systems (PSS). See Ref 5 for further discussion.

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Psychology > Reasoning and Decision Making
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