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The experience of committing our mental resources to solving a problem can be
extremely engaging. The study of how people solve problems is the problem that
engages me and is the major focus of my research.

One of the questions that we try to answer is what determines problem difficulty.
One method we use is to collect verbal protocols and time subjects' moves as
they solve problems, obtaining detailed information about their solution processes
and problem representations. Another approach has subjects solve problems while
performing a concurrent working memory loading task. One of our findings in this
area is that people's limited working memory capacity controls their ability to think
about problems and plan moves. We often test our conclusions be constructing
computer models of the cognitive processes that we believe subjects use, and
comparing the performance of the models with that of our human subjects solving
the same problems.

Another of our goals is to understand how people overcome difficulty by mobilizing
resources and developing competence on a problem. We have observed that people
are often very tentative and uncertain when initially working on a problem, but then
exhibit almost "expert" level performance toward the end. We have been investigating
this sudden transition to see what knowledge or skill has been acquired that much
of what subjects learn during problem solving is learned without their being able to
indicate any awareness of the learning. We are currently trying to investigate how
this occurs and what its limitations are.

A practical question that emerges from the above research is what features of
problems determine the skill transfer between problems. Another area of application
is the study of how design problems can be solved. Along with collaborators in
engineering, I have begun to examine how problem-solving processes can be
emulated by a computer. These represent some of the research issues that have
begun to emerge from our attempts to understand human problem-solving.

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