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General Problem Solver (A. Newell & H. Simon)
The General Problem Solver (GPS) was a theory of human problem solving stated in the form of a simulation program (Ernst & Newell, 1969; Newell & Simon, 1972). This program and the associated theoretical framework had a significant impact on the subsequent direction of cognitive psychology. It also introduced the use of productions as a method for specifying cognitive models.
The theoretical framework was information processing and attempted to explain all behavior as a function of memory operations, control processes and rules. The methodology for testing the theory involved developing a computer simulation and then comparing the results of the simulation with human behavior in a given task. Such comparisons also made use of protocol analysis (Ericsson & Simon, 1984) in which the verbal reports of a person solving a task are used as indicators of cognitive processes.
GPS was intended to provide a core set of processes that could be used to solve a variety of different types of problems. The critical step in solving a problem with GPS is the definition of the problem space in terms of the goal to be achieved and the transformation rules. Using a means-end-analysis approach, GPS would divide the overall goal into subgoals and attempt to solve each of those. Some of the basic solution rules include: (1) transform one object into another, (2) reduce the different between two objects, and (3) apply an operator to an object. One of the key elements need by GPS to solve problems was an operator-difference table that specified what transformations were possible.
While GPS was intended to be a general problem-solver, it could only be applied to “well-defined” problems such as proving theorems in logic or geometry, word puzzles and chess. However, GPS was the basis other theoretical work by Newell et al. such as SOAR and GOMS . Newell (1990) provides a summary of how this work evolved.
Here is a trace of GPS solving the logic problem to transform L1= R*(-P => Q) into L2=(Q \/ P)*R (Newell & Simon, 1972, p420):
Goal 1: Transform L1 into LO Goal 2: Reduce difference between L1 and L0 Goal 3: Apply R1 to L1 Goal 4: Transform L1 into condition (R1) Produce L2: (-P => Q) *R Goal 5: Transform L2 into L0 Goal 6: Reduce difference between left(L2) and left(L0) Goal 7: Apply R5 to left(L2) Goal 8: Transform left(L2) into condition(R5) Goal 9: Reduce difference between left(L2) and condition(R5) Rejected: No easier than Goal 6 Goal 10: Apply R6 to left(L2) Goal 11: Transform left(L2) into condition(R5) Produce L3: (P \/ Q) *R Goal 12: Transform L3 into L0 Goal 13: Reduce difference between left(L3) and left(L0) Goal 14: Apply R1 to left(L3) Goal 15: Transform left(L3) into condition(R1) Produce L4: (Q \/ P)*R Goal 16: Transform L4 into L0 Identical, QED
- Problem-solving behavior involves means-ends-analysis, i.e., breaking a problem down into subcomponents (subgoals) and solving each of those.
- Ericsson, K. & Simon, H. (1984). Protocol Analysis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Ernst, G. & Newell, A. (1969). GPS: A Case Study in Generality and Problem Solving. New York: Academic Press.
- Newell, A. (1990). Unified Theories of Cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Newell, A. & Simon, H. (1972). Human Problem Solving. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
- Sites at Penn State
Psych 256: Introduction to Cognitive Psychology
Making connections between theory and reality, financial crisis: newell and simon’s approach.
Financial Crisis: Newell and Simon’s Approach
Everyday problems are the circumstances that we find ourselves in on a daily basis that involve using skills, knowledge we have accumulated, and resources that we have available to us in order to reach our goals. As a college student, mother of five children, wife, and an Assistant Manager for a retail chain, my life is busy with a wide range of responsibilities related to school, home, work, and friends. Throughout the course of any given day, I handle a variety of decisions and problems automatically. At times, however, situations arise which I cannot solve “automatically”. In those situations the use of problem-solving techniques becomes an invaluable asset that allows me to make the best choices and decisions available.
With that being said, this week I have been faced with a significant problem. As I was trying to complete my registration for the summer semester, I was notified that my financial aid is about to run dry. As many of you know, the federal government awards undergraduates a lifetime maximum of $57,500 in Stafford Loans. Furthermore, I have just about enough left to finish another semester. I am approximately 12 classes away from graduating. So we can see where my problem lies, “where do I go from here?” According to our textbook, Newell and Simon saw problems in terms of an initial state (conditions at the beginning of the problem) – my financial aid running out – and a goal state (the solution of the problem) – receiving the funding to graduate (Goldstein, 2011).
Newell and Simon conceived of problem solving as involving a sequence of choices of steps, with each step creating an intermediate state – conditions after each step is made toward solving a problem – (Goldstein, 2011). Therefore, I need to explore all of my options in order to reach my goal state. When trying to solve my problem, I need to search the problem space to find a solution. According to Newell and Simon, I must find a solution through the use of a strategy called means-end analysis – a way of solving a problem in which the goal is to reduce the difference between the initial and goal states – (Goldstein, 2011).
In doing so, I must create subgoals which are goals that help create intermediate states that get me closer to my goal (Goldstein, 2011). My subgoals include finding out what is made available to me through Penn State, a possible Work-Study, any scholarships I may qualify for, and applying for a student loan through a bank or credit union. Through the use of my subgoals, I can determine which is the best possible solution for me to take in order to reach my goal state; meaning I can eliminate the options that will not work in my best interest.
One of the main contributions of Newell and Simon’s approach to problem solving is that it provides a way to specify the possible pathways from the initial to goal states (Goldstein, 2011). Everyday problems vary in terms of possible solutions that we can reach. Sometimes the problem may have a clear outcome or goal state that we will work toward. It is not unusual for problems to arise when you are working towards a goal. As these barriers are encountered, problem-solving strategies can be utilized to help you overcome the obstacle and achieve your goal.
Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Belmont: Wadsworth.
1 thought on “ Financial Crisis: Newell and Simon’s Approach ”
Melanie, I found it fascinating how you connected your issues with school finances to Newell and Simon’s information processing approach to problem solving. I do wonder, however, if approaching a problem such as yours with a strictly information-processing frame of mind would hinder the ability to see any obstacles to the solving of the problem. I am especially interested in the Gestalt psychological problem of fixation, which would obstruct the ability to view the problem from a novel perspective. ( http://rockfordkingsley.org/AnEffectiveYou/ProblemSolving/Step4DevelopStrategiesToSolveTheProblem/Step4ObstaclestoProblemSolving/tabid/443/Default.aspx ) While it does seem that you have many helpful subgoals in place, I wonder if there are any alternatively unique ways in which to raise money for school that have not been explored due to our very human tendency to pigeon-hole our thought processes into one aspect of a problem. It is also interesting to contemplate whether you have solved a financial problem that is similar in the past. Perhaps if you have ever run into financial trouble in the past, and overcome this challenge, you can use this previous experience in order to decide upon the best course of action for your current situation. This idea would tie into the idea of analogical problem solving. Our text suggests asking oneself, “Can I apply the same methods to solving this problem?” (Goldstein, 2011) I initially hoped you were an expert in the field of finance, since this may make solving your monetary problems much easier. The increased knowledge about the way finances work, and the specific organization of such knowledge could be beneficial in discovering a solution. (Goldstein, 2011) It seemed comforting to know that being an expert is not necessarily beneficial when trying to come up with innovative approaches to a problem. (Goldstein, 2011) Expert or novice in finance, absolutely take it slow, and cover all your bases. ( http://rockfordkingsley.org/AnEffectiveYou/ProblemSolving/Step4DevelopStrategiesToSolveTheProblem/Step4ObstaclestoProblemSolving/tabid/443/Default.aspx )
Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive psychology: connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Step 4: Obstacles to Problem Solving. (n.d.). Step 4: Obstacles to Problem Solving. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from http://rockfordkingsley.org/AnEffectiveYou/ProblemSolving/Step4DevelopStrategiesToSolveTheProblem/Step4ObstaclestoProblemSolving/tabid/443/Default.aspx
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Describe Newell’s approach to problem solving. Explain the general problem solving strategies of Wickelgren.
According to Newell’s approach to problem solving, people solve problems by searching in a problem space. The problem space consists of the initial (current) state, the goal state, and all possible states in between. The actions that people take in order to move from one state to another are known as operators. Consider the eight puzzle. The problem space for the eight puzzle consists of the initial arrangement of tiles, the desired arrangement of tiles (normally 1, 2, 3 ….8), and all the possible arrangements that can be arrived at in between.
However, problem spaces can be very large so the key issue is how people navigate their way through the possibilities, given their limited working memory capacities. In other words, how do they choose operators? For many problems we possess domain knowledge that helps us decide what to do.
But for novel problems Newell and Simon proposed that operator selection is guided by cognitive short-cuts, known as heuristics. The simplest heuristic is repeat state avoidance or backup avoidance 1, whereby individuals prefer not to take an action that would take them back to a previous problem state.
This unhelpful when a person has taken an inappropriate action and actually needs to go back a step or more. Another heuristic is difference reduction, or hill- climbing, whereby people take the action that leads to the biggest similarity between current state and goal state.
Wickelgren argues that there are five general problem solving techniques for searching the state action tree.
Inference: The process of deriving•the strict logical consequences of assumed premises.
State Evaluation and Hill Climbing: State evaluation is evaluating possible operations ,to help determine paths to the goal-expression. Hill climbing is systematically choosing one of these paths.
Sub-Goals: Another strategy that Wickelgren presents is creating “sub-goals”, or breaking the problem into simpler problems.
Contradiction: A third strategy is “Contradiction”, a method of problem-solving in which one proves that the goal could no% possibly be obtained from the givens.
Working Backwards: A fourth strategy is “Working backwards”, an effective strategy for problems that have a uniquely defined goal and for which several givens must be used to derive the goal.
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