Definition of Functional Fixedness in Psychology

Munoz-Rubke F, Olson D, Will R, James KH. Functional fixation in the use of tools: learning modality, limits and individual differences. Acta Psychol (Amst). 2018;190:11-26. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2018.06.006 Functional fixation is a cognitive and psychological bias that limits a person to seeing an object or problem only as it has traditionally been used or seen. Think, for example, of scissors and paper – almost everyone understands that scissors are fixed in their function of paper cutter, which is their traditional use. Similarly, a car is fixed in its function as a means of transport, its traditional function. Of course, if you are not Elon Musk, a car can be used in a different way, for a completely different purpose of transportation, which brings us to important aspects of functional fixation – problem solving and creativity. We will come back to this later. In a recent study, preliminary evidence was found to support the universality of functional fixation. [21] The objective of the study was to test whether individuals from non-industrialized societies, particularly with low exposure to “high-tech” artifacts, exhibited functional fixation. The study tested shuar, hunters and gardeners from the Amazon region of Ecuador, and compared them to a control group of an industrial crop. Inconclusive evidence of positive analogue transfer based on previous knowledge was found; However, the groups showed variability.

The format of the problem and the structural nature of analog representation showed the highest positive transfer to problem solving. The researcher suggested that a well-thought-out and planned analogy, relevant in the format and type of problem-solving task to be accomplished, may be useful for students to overcome functional fixation. This study has not only brought new knowledge about the human mind to work, but also provides important tools for educational purposes and possible changes that teachers can apply as tools for lesson plans. [23] Functional fixation was first defined in 1945 by the German psychologist Karl Duncker. Karl Duncker described functional fixation as a mental blockage when an object is used in a new way necessary to solve a problem.5 The block, which Karl points out in his famous experiment, shows how an individual`s ability to accomplish a task with certain components was limited because he was unable to rationalize their use outside of their original purpose. Why is functional fixation considered a cognitive bias? You might identify these examples as “life hacks,” but they are all forms of overcoming functional fixation and seeing the uses of everyday objects in a new light. People who are aware of functional fixation can work to avoid bias and improve their problem-solving skills. By consciously working to think innovatively and better solve the problems of their professional and personal lives, they can strive to find unique and innovative solutions. One study suggests that functional fastening can be combated by design decisions from functionally fixed designs, so that the essence of the design is preserved (Latour, 1994). [24] This helps subjects who have created functionally fixed designs to understand how to solve common problems of this type, rather than using the fixed solution to a particular problem. Latour conducted an experiment to study this by asking software engineers to analyze a fairly standard piece of code — the Quicksort algorithm — and use it to create a partitioning function. Part of the Quicksort algorithm is to partition a list into subsets so that it can be sorted.

The experimenters wanted to use the code from the algorithm to perform only partitioning. To this end, they abstracted each block of code into the function, recognized its purpose, and decided whether it was necessary for the partitioning algorithm. This abstraction allowed them to reuse the code from the Quicksort algorithm to create a working partition algorithm without having to design it from scratch. [24] Functional fixation can become a real problem for professionals. In fact, research shows that functional fixation is one of the biggest barriers to innovation in large organizations. If your job is to develop innovative solutions, it is essential to be able to think outside the box. Functional fixation is a cognitive bias that negatively affects a person`s ability to solve and innovate problems. Bias causes a person to only look at a problem in a certain way, and it can prevent them from developing effective solutions to their challenge.

Functional fixation can affect all areas of life, including academic life, career and personal life. A person`s inability to recognize alternative approaches limits their creativity and limits their potential ideas when trying to solve a problem. The ability to think outside the box is a good way to get around functional fixation. The more you try new and different approaches or methods to do things, the less you see objects that are only suitable for their main purpose. One of the ways to overcome functional fixation is to use the technique of heuristics. This mental shortcut allows you to solve problems faster and more efficiently by ignoring your cognitive bias towards likely solutions. Functional fixation can be avoided by first being aware of the distortion. Ignoring the initial problem, taking inspiration from other areas, and even getting the advice of different types of experts in other industries can help avoid functional fixation in everyday life.

When tested, 5-year-olds show no signs of functional fixation. It has been argued that this is because at the age of 5, any goal that must be achieved with one goal corresponds to any other goal. However, by the age of 7, children have developed a tendency to treat the originally intended purpose of an object as something special. [2] This is due to the psychology of functional fixity, Sharanya`s inability to look at Sriram beyond his current professional capacity.