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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2005 Sep;31(5):1134-48.

Following the wrong footsteps: fixation effects of pictorial examples in a design problem-solving task.

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Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA.


Two experiments examined possible negative transfer in nonexperts from the use of pictorial examples in a laboratory design problem-solving situation. In Experiment 1, 89 participants were instructed to "think aloud" and were assigned to 1 of 3 conditions: (a) control (standard instructions), (b) fixation (inclusion of a problematic example, describing its problematic elements), or (c) defixation (inclusion of a problematic example, with instructions to avoid using problematic elements). Negative transfer due to examples was measured both quantitatively and qualitatively through verbal protocols. Verbal protocols (N = 176) were analyzed for participants' reasons for reference to the examples. In Experiment 2, fixation to examples was evaluated in nonverbalizing participants (N = 60). Results of both experiments suggest that (a) although participants consulted the problem instructions, they tended to follow the examples even when they included inappropriate elements and (b) the fixation effects can be diminished with the use of defixating instructions.

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