The Einstellung Effect

The Einstellung Effect (pronounced Eye-stellung)

Einstelling is a German word which the author of A Mind for Numbers  Dr. Barbara Oakley, states means to put or erect a barrier or block a way, (that is not the translation I get on German language translation websites, but I will go with it because it is the inadvertent blocking of the mind by using a particular focus, as explained in her book that, I want to examine)

The Einstellung Effect is a tendency to continue to think in a way that is being used (on a present problem) or has previously been used in making judgements and decisions, which can lead to blocking of relevant though and therefore to less-than-optimal decisions or judgments. That is answers or decisions that are incomplete or incorrect.

The effect can be the culprit in failure to find optimal and/or simpler solutions to new problems when we see features of a problem that reminds us of similar problems we’ve solved in the past, (or seen others solve in a particular way). The first solutions that come to mind  tend to follow similar lines to those past solutions/decisions (to put it mildly). Those first ideas often get in the way of (block) the finding of better solutions or the making of correct decisions because they prime us to think in a certain way.

Cognitive traps like this may be the result of our natural desire to simplify the way we process information since simplification saves mental energy. Our minds are cognitive misers, using shortcuts to save cognitive power whenever the opportunity arises (we are naturally lazy or ‘economical’ with effort).

An example from the 2018 World Cup.

We can fall prey to the Einstellung Effect whether we’re novices or masters in any problem-solving arena (but you have been warned so may not immediately do so here).

Here are two examples of problems where difficulty with the Eintellung Effect is possible. The first has often been solved by young children in less than 20 seconds but has still completely baffled their teachers. Be warned there is some misdirection in the following puzzle.


Car park puzzel


2) Read the following sentence and identify how many errors it contains

Thiss sentence contains threee errors

The solution is contained in this pdf along with the remainder of this article:-  Thiss sentence

Video examples

The following clip labours the text of the Rule and suggests improvements to it. I am not convinced that the umpire was even watching, and saw this incident, as he struggled to get back into a position in the circle. His failure to penalise for obstruction and physical contact (backing in and barging) is otherwise inexplicable (a goal was awarded).

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