Figure 1410

The proportion of incorrect responses in the various states of the hobbits-orcs problem (an isomorph of the missionaries-cannibals problem) from Thomas (1974). It shows the difficulties that subjects experience in states 5 and 8.

Simon and Reed maintained that the key to efficient solution of the problem rested on a strategy shift from the balancing strategy to the means-ends strategy. The problem with the balancing strategy is that it leads one into blind-alley states in the problem. Thus, they predicted that any manipulation that increased the probability of a strategy shift would result in improved performance on solving the problem. In an experiment designed to test this prediction, a control group of subjects received the problem to solve with no hints, and an experimental group was given, as a hint, a subgoal to achieve on the way to solving the problem. This hint suggested that subjects should work to reach a state where three cannibals were on the goal-side of the river on their own without a boat. As this subgoal involves a state where there are unequal numbers of missionaries and cannibals on either side of the river, it was expected that this subgoal should discourage the use of the balancing strategy early on. This prediction was confirmed. Subjects in the experimental group tended to shift strategies after about four moves, whereas those in the control group only shifted after about 15 moves. Figure 14.11 shows the much better performance of subjects in the subgoal condition versus controls who were not given the subgoal.

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