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Posts Tagged ‘Problem Solving’

Let Me Sleep On It: Creative Problem Solving Enhanced By REM Sleep

Posted by Sun on May 24, 2012

ScienceDaily (June 8, 2009) — Research led by a leading expert on the positive benefits of napping at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine suggests that Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep enhances creative problem-solving. The findings may have important implications for how sleep, specifically REM sleep, fosters the formation of associative networks in the brain.

The study by Sara Mednick, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego and the VA San Diego Healthcare System, and first author Denise Cai, graduate student in the UC San Diego Department of Psychology, shows that REM directly enhances creative processing more than any other sleep or wake state. Their findings will be published in the June 8th online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“We found that – for creative problems that you’ve already been working on – the passage of time is enough to find solutions,” said Mednick. “However, for new problems, only REM sleep enhances creativity.”

Mednick added that it appears REM sleep helps achieve such solutions by stimulating associative networks, allowing the brain to make new and useful associations between unrelated ideas. Importantly, the study showed that these improvements are not due to selective memory enhancements.

A critical issue in sleep and cognition is whether improvements in behavioral performance are the result of sleep-specific enhancement or simply reduction of interference – since experiences while awake have been shown to interfere with memory consolidation. The researchers controlled for such interference effects by comparing sleep periods to quiet rest periods without any verbal input.

While evidence for the role of sleep in creative problem-solving has been looked at by prior research, underlying mechanisms such as different stages of sleep had not been explored. Using a creativity task called a Remote Associates Test (RAT), study participants were shown multiple groups of three words (for example: cookie, heart, sixteen) and asked to find a fourth word that can be associated to all three words (sweet, in this instance). Participants were tested in the morning, and again in the afternoon, after either a nap with REM sleep, one without REM or a quiet rest period. The researchers manipulated various conditions of prior exposure to elements of the creative problem, and controlled for memory.

“Participants grouped by REM sleep, non-REM sleep and quiet rest were indistinguishable on measures of memory,” said Cai. “Although the quiet rest and non-REM sleep groups received the same prior exposure to the task, they displayed no improvement on the RAT test. Strikingly, however, the REM sleep group improved by almost 40 percent over their morning performances.”

The authors hypothesize that the formation of associative networks from previously unassociated information in the brain, leading to creative problem-solving, is facilitated by changes to neurotransmitter systems during REM sleep.

Additional contributors to the study include Sarnoff A. Mednick, University of Southern California, Department of Psychology; Elizabeth M. Harrison, UCSD Department of Psychology; and Jennifer Kanady, UCSD Department of Psychiatry and Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, Research Service. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health.


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Want to Solve a Problem? Don’t Just Use Your Brain, but Your Body, Too

Posted by Sun on May 24, 2012

ScienceDaily (June 2, 2011) — When we’ve got a problem to solve, we don’t just use our brains but the rest of our bodies, too. The connection, as neurologists know, is not uni-directional. Now there’s evidence from cognitive psychology of the same fact. “Being able to use your body in problem solving alters the way you solve the problems,” says University of Wisconsin psychology professor Martha Alibali. “Body movements are one of the resources we bring to cognitive processes.”

These conclusions, of a new study by Alibali and colleagues — Robert C. Spencer, also at the University of Wisconsin, and Lucy Knox and Sotaro Kita of the University of Birmingham — are augmented by another, counter-intuitive one — even when we are solving problems that have to do with motion and space, the inability to use the body may force us to come up with other strategies, and these may be more efficient.

The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The study involved two experiments. The first recruited 86 American undergraduates, half of whom were prevented from moving their hands using Velcro gloves that attached to a board. The others were prevented from moving their feet, using Velcro straps attached to another board. The latter thus experienced the strangeness of being restricted, but also had their hands free. From the other side of an opaque screen, the experimenter asked questions about gears in relation to each other — e.g., “If five gears are arranged in a line, and you move the first gear clockwise, what will the final gear do?” The participants solved the problems aloud and were videotaped.

The videotapes were then analyzed for the number of hand gestures the participants used (hand rotations or “ticking” movements, indicating counting); verbal explanations indicating the subject was visualizing those physical movements; or the use of more abstract mathematical rules, without reference to perceptual-motor processes.

The results: The people who were allowed to gesture usually did so — and they also commonly used perceptual-motor strategies in solving the puzzles. The people whose hands were restrained, as well as those who chose not to gesture (even when allowed), used abstract, mathematical strategies much more often.

In a second experiment, 111 British adults did the same thing silently and were videotaped, and described their strategies afterwards. The results were the same.

The findings evince deeper questions about the relationship of mind and body and their relationship to space, says Alibali. “As human thinkers, we use visual-spatial metaphors all the time to solve problems and conceptualize things — even in domains that don’t seem physical on their face. Adding is ‘up,’ subtracting is ‘down.’ A good mood is ‘high,’ a bad one is ‘low.’ This is the metaphoric structuring of our conceptual landscape.”

Alibali, who is also an educational psychologist, asks: “How we can harness the power of action and perception in learning?” Or, conversely: What about the cognitive strategies of people who cannot use their bodies? “They may focus on different aspects of problems,” she says. And, it turns out, they may be onto something the rest of us could learn from.

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Problems vs. opportunities – it’s all a matter of perspective

Posted by Sun on February 27, 2012

As managers, entrepreneurs and parents, we spend a great deal of our time dealing with and trying to solve problems. Problems, problems, problems:

  • Who called in sick today?
  • Do we have someone qualified to cover that job?
  • How is this going to affect our production schedule and thus, my appearance to my boss?
  • Will he/she understand?
  • The bank called today and you’re three months late on the loan you used to finance that big expansions you felt that you had the customers and orders to justify. What do you do? Will they understand? Will this affect future collaborations
  • Your child’s school called and your son/daughter is being disruptive in class.
  • How do we deal with him/her?
  • How do we reach them?
  • What are the circumstances?

I could go on and on but you get the picture and this is just the stuff right off the top of my head. I’d bet that if we tried, we could come up with a list of problems so long and complicated that it would boggle the mind.

I was currently analyzing a problem that has been nagging and hindering the startup of a business that I am involved in when I had an epiphany. I am always going to have problems. The issue is not that I have problems or that you have problems, but the issue is about how we view those problems. It’s all a matter of your perspective. Problems are simply – OPPORTUNITIES in disguise. Let’s notice some simple facts:

1. You will always have problems – that is a fact. And as a businessman, that’s great!

I know, you think that I’ve lost my mind, but it is true. Problems provide the opportunity to showcase your talents. Even if you are on the very bottom rung of the business/corporate ladder, you are able to demonstrate your expertise by how you handle problems.

Those people who become adept at problem solving will quickly move to the head of the class. As they say, “the cream rises to the top”. Your boss and his or her boss will begin to notice that your skills are noteworthy. In the business world, a problem solver is highly valued because they are able to:

  • make the project come together
  • facilitate the collaboration of strong opposing personalities
  • meet the deadline
  • bring the project in under budget

Problems create the opportunity to showcase your talents and abilities. Do you have special skills? How will you ever be able to demonstrate them without problems? It’s kind of like being an exceptional athlete. No one really knows how good you are until you operate against the pressure of an opposing team.

2. We would all prefer to lead simple and predictable lives – but as an entrepreneur I value problems!

Problems give us the chance to flex our solution-producing muscles. Every new product that succeeds is the answer to a problem that someone identified. Then, they sought to offer some way of overcoming or dealing with this problem. Viola, a new product or service is born. Think about it, every book on entrepreneurship tells you to find a need (another name for a problem) and fill it.

Do you have a problem with the way something works or doesn’t work? Scott Kay did andthe Rotater was born.

Provide a solution and then market it. It may be the next big thing. The possibilities are limited only by the limitations that you place on yourself.

3. Problems provide a measure of our dedication and persistence.

It is easy to maintain a positive outlook when everything is going according to plan, but it is the problems and adversity that will test you. It is when you are struggling to make your lease payments and publicize your business while all your friends and relatives ask, “why don’t you give up and get a real job”, that your mettle is tested. Can you take it? Are you a quitter?

As my friend Stephen Hopson says over at Adversity University, life is about adversity.

Problems are opportunities in disguise. Use them to showcase your skills, talents and your perseverance.


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Problem Definition Strategies

Posted by Sun on July 12, 2011

Why is it important to learn problem-solving skills?, Because, we all have problems that need solving.

Whether you’re a young woman, elderly man, a physician, or the businessman, you face problems every day. A problem can be achieving a goal, giving up an addiction, success at work, or choosing food for lunch. Whether it is big or small, if it remained as unsolved problem, it would become a nagging source of stress. In contrast to solve every problem makes us stronger and more optimistic.

The most important step of all is defining a problem. Defining the problem plays a vital part in the problem solving, because, different definitions lead to different attitudes. Einstein said: if I had one hour to save the world I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.

There are four strategies for a well-defined problem.

1. See every problem as an opportunity.

A problem is an opportunity for growth, because, your potentials are awakened by problems.

When you change your attitude and see the problem as an opportunity; situation become more exciting and enjoyable and increase your enthusiasm. In this state solutions are looked faster and more clearly.

2. Chunk down

Break the problem down into smaller pieces. Chunking down gives you a pragmatic view about it. In fact, with this attitude the problem becomes manageable pieces. These questions can help you for chunking down:

What are the underlying causes of it?

What are the key pieces of it?

Why did that happen?

What happened about…?

3. Chunk up

Look at the big picture. Chunking up gives you helicopter view about the your problem. Chunking up means; putting the problem into a specific category. Labeling is a kind of Chunking up. When you label the problem and put it in the particular category, you can find experienced solutions easily.

These questions can help you for chunk up:

What does this mean?

Let’s look at the bigger picture…

How does that relate to…?

What are we trying to achieve here?

Who is this for? What do they really want?

How does this relate to that?

4. Third perspective

Denial is important psychological cover for seeing all aspects of a problem. Looking at the problem and yourself from a third perspective with a view without judgment can cut through the denial. Observing without judgment gives you much information about the problem, yourself, and the relationship between you and the problem.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask

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