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talljasperman's avatar

Can you list some examples of current research into functional fixedness?

Asked by talljasperman (18259 points ) March 19th, 2012

Can you give more examples or describe the current research into functional fixedness?

I first learned of this concept from a fantasy novel in which a King tells his people that all weapons and all tools can be converted to become the other. (Like Swords into Plough-Shears and Plough-Shears into Swords)

I also found the psychology experiment in which a person needs to attach a pair of wire cutters to a piece of rope on the ceiling and swing it to the other side to connect the two pieces that are just out of reach of the person trying to connect them.

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3 Answers

thorninmud's avatar

This is one of the most cited studies on the psychological foundations and development of functional fixedness.

Interesting stuff.

wundayatta's avatar

Dunno about research, but the other night a friend was over. She’s a psychologist and the kids are always after her to play some psychological game with them. So this time she set us the game of finding other uses for something (I forget what). So we were all happily trying to imagine different uses for this tool.

I noticed that your example from the fantasy novel is probably not true functional fixedness. In your example, the form of the tool changes to that fitting some other function. So the tool is still functionally fixed after the transformation. It’s not that the tool stays the same, but the function changes.

Back to my first point. Over the years, I have seen any number of team building games that use some variation of a functional fixed exercise. You are generally given a number of things and then given a task. You have to accomplish the task using what you have at hand, and that generally requires using things in a way they are not designed for.

White collar team building is not the only place you see this happen. The kids often go on outdoorsy adventures such as at camp or outward bound, and are given tasks where they have to get the team from point A to point B along some rope course without touching the ground. Again, it generally involves having to repurpose things.

The old TV show MacGuyver was all about breaking the fixedness of the function of tools. He was always having to use things in different ways. It was always fun seeing how he was going to solve the problem. It seemed like he could make C-4 out of toothpaste and calcite, or something like that. Then he’s blow open a door, rescue the girl, and peel out of there on some fancy car that he’d hotwired with a toothpick and a wristwatch, just in time to have the bad guy’s lair blowup, saving the world from nuclear annihilation. And he did it all in an hour, too.

Pol_is_aware's avatar

Can you elaborate on that experiment?

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