Outside The Box Thinking

Monday Jun 05th, 2017


These days, most people have heard some form of the idea that “what we see can affect how we think.” But over a century ago, this was a new discovery. According to an article on the Observer website, in the early 1900’s gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker created an experiment known as the “Candle Problem.”

Duncker led some test subjects to a table pressed up against a wall. The table held three items: a candle, a book of matches, and a box of tacks. He asked the subjects to find a way to attach the candle to the wall so that its wax wouldn’t drip on the table. None of them could do it, until Duncker made a slight change.

In the second experiment, he used all the same materials, except this time he removed the tacks from their box and placed them on the table next to the candle. Most of the test subjects quickly figured out that they could pin the empty tack box to the wall using the tacks, so the wax would drip only inside the box.

The point? This sort of “functional fixedness” can be seen in many patterns of behavior, from taking the same route to work every day to holding on to ideas that have outlived their purpose.

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