Abstract knowledge and reliance on similarity in statistical problem solving




Micco, Angela

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Remindings--the retrieval and use of examples from episodic memory--have been characterized as a problem solving strategy indicative of individuals who do not understand the principle underlying a problem's solution (Ross, 1984). Whereas past research has provided insight into how learners in a new domain notice and use examples, the question of whether the use of examples continues after the individual has acquired an abstract understanding of the problem's underlying structure has not been adequately addressed. In Experiment 1, subjects were differentially trained such that half developed an abstract understanding of elementary probability principles, and half did not. Moreover, the existence of the knowledge difference was demonstrated. Similarly in Experiment 2, subjects learned pragmatic inferential reasoning rules, and evidence of rule acquisition was demonstrated. In both experiments, evidence that individuals who understood the principle underlying the problem's solution nonetheless solved the problem by analogy to an earlier example was demonstrated by the emergence of a negative transfer effect. That is, subjects who understood the problem's underlying principle were more likely to use an inappropriate solution procedure when the test problem's story line reminded them of a training problem that used a related but different principle, than when the test problem's story line was new to the experiment. Furthermore, the results of Experiment 1 indicated that memory of an earlier example also influenced how individuals who understood the problem's underlying structure applied the principle to the test problem. The results are discussed in terms of the use of a heuristic by which problems appear similar on the surface are solved using the same solution procedure.



Cognitive psychology, Memory, Analogy, Problem solving