Link to: Psychology home
Link to: Contact UsLink to: MapsLink to: Welcome
Link to: homeLink to: Graduate programLink to: Undergraduate programLink to: Program AreasPeople
    HOME : PEOPLE : CORE FACULTY : Kenneth Kotovsky

Link to: Complete
Link to: Core Faculty
Link to: Part Time Faculty
Link to: Adjunct Faculty
Link to: Post Docs
Link to: Graduate Students
Link to: Staff Link to: Search Link to: Printable List
Faculty in the News Students in the News psycho? logical? bulletin upcoming events search cmu's directory
PROFILE — Kenneth Kotovsky
Click to Enlarge Photo . . . Professor
Area: Cognitive

Job Title: Professor

Contact information:
Psychology office: 356D Baker Hall
Psychology phone: 412-268-8110

Research Interests:

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.


Campbell, M., J. Cagan, and K. Kotovsky, Agent-Based Synthesis of Electro-Mechanical Design Configurations, ASME Journal of Mechanical Design, 122:1, pp 61-69, 2000.

Cagan, J., Kotovsky, K., Simon, H. A., Scientific Discovery and Inventive Engineering Design: Cognitive and Computational Similarities. Formal Engineering Design Synthesis, Antonsin, E. and Cagan, J. eds. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp442-465, 2001.

Klahr, D. & Kotovsky, K., A life of the mind: Remembering Herb Simon. APS Observer 14, no. 4: 2001.

Cronin, M. A., Argote, L., & Kotovsky, K. Specialization and Coordination of Cognition in Group Problem Solving (under review, Journal of Applied Psychology) Kotovsky, K. " Problem-solving, Large/Small, Hard/Easy, Conscious/Non- conscious Problem-space/Problem-solver,: The Issue of Dichotomization. In J. Davidson & R. Sternberg (Eds.), The Psychology of Problem Solving, Cambridge University Press. 2003.

Campbell, M., Cagan, J., and Kotovsky, K. The A-Design Approach to Managing Automated Design Synthesis, Research in Engineering Design, Vol. 14, 1. pp, 12-24, 2003.

Moss, J., Cagan, J., & Kotovsky, K. Learning from Design Experience in an Agent-Based Design System. Research in Engineering Design, 2004.

Moss, J., Kotovsky, K. & Cagan, The Role of Functionality in the Mental Representations of Engineering Students: Some Differnces in the Early Stages of Expertise. Cognitive Science, 30, 65-93

Moss, J., Kotovsky, K., & Cagan, J. The Influence of Open Goals in Acquiring Problem Relevant Information (under review).

Olson, J., Cagan, J. & Kotovsky, K., Simulating Collaborative Dynamics in the Design of Complex Engineering Systems. under review, Management Science.

Moss, J., K. Kotovsky, and J. Cagan, "When is a Hint Most helpful? The Relationship Between Impasses, Fixation and Implicit Hints", Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 2010.

Moss, J., K. Kotovsky, and J. Cagan, "The Effect of Incidental Hints When Problems Are Suspended Before During Or After An Impasse," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 2010.

Paynter, C. A., Kotovsky, K. & Reder, L. M. "Problem-Solving Without Awareness: An ERP Investigation. Neuropsychologia. 2011

Fu, K., Cagan, J., Kotovsky, K. "Design Team Convergence: The Influence of example solution Quality" ASME Journal of Mechanical Design Nov. 2010, Vol. 132.

Associates of Dr. Kotovsky:
Ut Na Sio, Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychology

Current Graduate Students:
Matthew Wood, Graduate Student in Psychology
Christopher McComb, Graduate Student in Mechanical Engineering

Related Links:

  • Curriculum Vitae (pdf file)
  • 85-102 Introduction to Psychology Class
  • CMU Directory Information