The notion of fixation in psychology describes the inability to view a problem from a fresh perspective. If a problem is at first incorrectly represented in our minds, it is extremely difficult to restructure how we approach it, particularly under stressful situations. For instance, during the Korean War, a paratrooper was given the last available parachute, a left-handed version. This parachute was exactly the same as the others, only the ripcord was on the left side of the harness. There was one fatality on that particular jump and it was that of the man with the left-handed parachute. Investigators later found the man, the right side of his uniform had been completely torn off, even the skin beneath it had evidence of his frantic searching, while the ripcord remained untouched a few inches to the left. This man was so incredibly stressed by the jump that he had fallen (no pun intended) into fixation about the presupposed location of the ripcord and could not restructure his view effectively.1

Another example of Fixation is less morbid. Imagine six matchsticks. Now try to create three equilateral triangles from these matchsticks. Can you do it? Many people begin thinking about the match sticks in two dimensions, and cannot bring themselves to realize that the answer is in the third (By creating a pyramid one can form three equilateral triangles from six matchsticks.)2

Another type of fixation is known as functional fixedness. This is the tendency to perceive objects as having fixed functions. For instance, searching all over the house for a screwdriver when a butter knife would do fine (In my experience, women are better at this particular type of restructuring than men).

In conclusion, problem solving can be greatly, and sometimes fatally hindered by things as simple as these presuppositions one which we base our daily lives. One must be careful not to let them become to rigid.

1. Janis, 1989; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990
Problem Solving M. Scheerer, Copyright 1963 Scientific American