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Problem Solving

  1. Jacqueline P. Leighton,
  2. Oksana I. Babenko

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0711

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Leighton, J. P. and Babenko, O. I. 2010. Problem Solving. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. University of Alberta, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


A problem is a state of difficulty that needs to be resolved. For example, if you accidentally lock your car keys inside the car, the problem is how to get home or wherever you need to go without access to the car. Problem solving is the goal-driven process of changing one state of difficulty into a state that does not include the source of difficulty (Simon, 1999). The state without the source of difficulty is the desirable state. According to Sternberg and colleagues (e.g., Pretz, Naples, & Sternberg, 2003, pp. 4–5) and others (Bransford & Stein, 1993; Hayes, 1989), the problem-solving process can be described as a cycle of seven steps or events: (1) a problem is recognized or identified in the environment; (2) the problem is defined and represented mentally; (3) within the mental representation generated, a solution strategy is developed to solve the problem; (4) relevant knowledge about the problem is organized; (5) the physical and mental resources needed to solve the problem are distributed; (6) progress toward the goal of solving the problem is monitored; and (7) the solution is evaluated for meeting the goal of solving the problem.


  • algorithm;
  • heuristics;
  • individual differences;
  • representation;
  • working memory