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functional fixedness, dual process, creativity, cognitive load, problem solving


Functional fixedness involves difficulty with conceptualizing creative object uses. When it obstructs problem solving, individuals must reframe their approach. We examined how different training techniques – chunk decomposition (i.e., considering an object’s basic parts and physical properties) and constraint relaxation (i.e., considering an object’s different functions) – might rely upon different routes to creative reframing. Additionally, we investigated how different forms of cognitive load interact with these dual routes. Participants learned one of three techniques. Chunk decomposition participants created object breakdown diagrams; constraint relaxation participants created object functions lists; and, free association (control) participants wrote a word that they associated with each of several concrete nouns. After training, participants attempted to solve five functional fixedness problems. E1 investigated how increasing germane cognitive load via either direct or indirect prompting affected training transfer. Experiment 2 investigated how reducing extraneous cognitive load by providing no transfer instructions and using an eye-closure strategy. Across both experiments, results supported differences in accuracy and response latency by training. However, chunk decomposition and constraint relaxation did not follow the same pattern, suggesting different mechanisms of the effect. We discuss possible applications to increase innovation in real-world domains such as education, business, and engineering.


This is the peer reviewed, author accepted version of the following article:

Weatherford, D.R., Esparza, L.V., Tedder, L.J. and Smith, O.K.H. (2020), Using a Fork as a Hairbrush: Investigating Dual Routes to Release from Functional Fixedness. J Creat Behav. doi:10.1002/jocb.442

which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

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