Problem definition is affected by social context in any domain. Individuals can become unable to redefine problems or evaluate progress on current problems due to the attitudes of the group.

For example, in an office environment, individuals may be familiar with a particular computer application for word processing. However, the program eventually may become outdated or unsupported. Initially, the group may simply go through the process of converting files or rewriting documents, rather than abandoning the program for one that is more appropriate.

The social context has a strong, sometimes unnoticed, effect on problem solving, beginning with the very early stages. Immediate clues from the environment can affect the type of definition or representation used to solve a problem (Gick & Holyoak, 1980, 1983).

Even the traditions and attitudes of a group will affect the types of problems recognized by its members, the terms in which they define those problems, and the ways they represent the problems as they prepare to solve them. Often, the most difficult part of problem formulation requires an individual to call into question these norms and expectations in order to most appropriately examine the phenomenon of interest

Excerpt from Davidson, J., & Sternberg, R. (Eds.). (2003). The Psychology of Problem Solving. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

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