Figure 141

A Necker cube which illustrates the perceptual restructuring in which the corner marked "Y" alternates between being at the back and the front of the figure.

associations (see Chapter 2) and felt that the same ideas could be applied to problem solving. In the perception of illusions, like the Necker cube in Figure 14.1, the corner marked "Y" sometimes appears to be to the front of the figure and other times to the back. In Gestalt terms, the figure is restructured to be perceived in one way or the other. In a similar fashion, Gestalt psychologists maintained that one could have "insight" into the problem's structure and "restructure" a problem in order to solve it.

Gestalt theory can be summarised by following points (see e.g., Ohlsson, 1984a; Wertheimer, 1954):

• Problem-solving behaviour is both reproductive and productive.

• Reproductive problem solving involves the re-use of previous experience and can hinder successful problem solving (e.g., as in problem-solving set and functional-fixedness experiments, see later).

• Productive problem solving is characterised by insight into the structure of the problem and by productive restructurings of the problem.

• Insight often occurs suddenly and is accompanied by an "ah-ha" experience.

The classic example of Gestalt research was Kohler's (1927) study on problem solving in apes. In Kohler's experiments, apes had to reach bananas outside their cages, when sticks were the only objects available. On one occasion, he observed an ape take two sticks and join them together to reach the bananas, and heralded it as an instance of insight. In contemporary terms, Kohler's point was that the animal had acted in a goal-directed way; it was trying to solve the problem using the sticks. He also pointed out that even though the ape had used the sticks initially in a trial-and-error manner, it was only after sitting quietly for a time that the animal produced the insightful solution. Kohler's evidence was not cast-iron because the previous experiences of this once-wild ape were not known. Later, Birch (1945) was to find little evidence of this sort of "insightful" problem solving in apes that were raised in captivity. However, such research set the stage for later Gestalt psychologists to extend their analyses to human problem solving.

Restructuring and insight: The two-string problem

One of the better known Gestalt problems—one that is uncomfortably close to the ape studies—is Maier's (1931) "two-string" or "pendulum problem". In the original version of the problem, human subjects were brought into a room that had two strings hanging from the ceiling and a number of other objects (e.g., poles, pliers, extension cords). They were then asked to tie the two strings together that were hanging from the ceiling. However, they soon found out that when they took hold of one string and went to grab hold of the

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