Problem-Solving and Contextual Factors

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Problem-Solving and Contextual Factors Free Essay


The ability to solve problems is deemed to be an essential element in human life. One of the factors that come into play is the development of human cognition, which contributes partially to the handling of problems. For instance, problems that children solve are of lesser complexity compared to those that adults handle. In other words, stages of development influence problem-solving abilities. In addition, social interactions and internalization of experiences affect problem-solving abilities. In this regard, the social environment plays a big role in informing individuals on solving problems. Problem-solving is also viewed as a form of creativity. In this regard, altering the environment impacts how people approach concerns. The paper argues that contextual factors can improve human problem-solving abilities by influencing how they perceive or understand issues at hand.

Role of Contextual Factors in Solving Problems

Contextual factors concern the environment or surroundings. In practice, such attributes can impact the way individuals face or solve problems. For instance, when a person encounters a challenge, which is not meaningful to him/her, it is reasonable to anticipate his/her feelings of effectiveness relating to solutions to be lower compared to those involved when encountering a problem that was more reflective of personal experiences or history. In this regard, the relationship an individual has to the problem in question has a bearing on how the issue is approached.

Life stage/ phase also influences problem-solving. Problems that mirror an individual’s current phase in life become easier to resolve because of a number of factors (Salthouse, 2000). Firstly, one of the key aspects is context familiarity. Secondly, solutions adopted in the past might be useful or helpful in handling present or future concerns. Thirdly, people around an individual might have experience required to handle a problem. In the latter case, the surrounding environment (people) might assist by suggesting possible solutions or by providing an individual with emotional support needed to face the challenge. With hindsight, it is thought that the level of experience that an individual possesses is essential in facing challenges. The experience is a function of lived encounters in the past while facing similar or related problems. However, the level experience might not matter in some circumstances. For instance, age might influence how people approach problems. In particular, older people might not have the same motivation or desire to address problems or challenges. The difference is that young persons are more likely to explore many options, including the innovative ones, while the old are not likely to entertain new ideas. In this case, it is held that elderly people who face challenges are more likely to resort to approaches that worked well in the past rather than look for new methods.

The developmental spectrum stage influences handling of challenges. For instance, young people prefer to gather information, pursue novel experiences, and encounter new things. In the middle stage of development, individuals are interested in investing in existing relationships and enhancing social bonds. The implication is that young adults have social capital that they can spare by engaging in more confrontational or argumentative strategies when handling challenges as compared to old persons. In addition, whereas young people try to strike a balance between short-term negativity and long-term happiness, old people are interested in being happy today. In other words, old people figure out that they do not have much time to live; hence, attaining immediate happiness is their primary objective. From the above, it is held that contextual factors such as one’s stage in life are influential regarding how people handle problems.

Assessment of the relationship between personality and trait is useful in understanding how context impacts problem-solving behaviour. An environment that encourages openness often contributes to the development of open-minded people. According to MacLean (n.d.), openness is the trait that is associated with creativity. The author concedes that such a finding is not surprising since it borders on fantasy, ideas, and aesthetics.

In some cases, researchers have used openness as a decoy for creativity. Based on a research by Feist (1998) that evaluated creativity in sciences and arts, the latter group demonstrated less conscience than the former. In addition, the science group was more socialized besides being stable. In other words, the upbringing context influenced the way people approached issues in life. Further, the researcher found that creative persons were less conscientious and conventional, as well as more open to emergent experiences. Such individuals were also self-confident, ambitious, and self-driven.

MacLean (n.d.) cites Eysenck (1995) who assessed the link between mental illness and creativity. After the study, the researcher held that psychoticism was related to creativity. According to the author, individuals with mental conditions exhibited over-inclusive thinking behaviours. As a result, psychotic people were more likely to be creative than ordinary people. Although the finding has been questioned (MacLean, n.d.), the allegation by Eysenck (1995) highlights that the mental state of an individual, which is a part of the context, influences how individuals tackle issues. Assuming that the researcher was right, then psychotic people are more creative and able to handle issues more creatively.

Researchers who dispute Feist’s findings (1998) on the link between psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and creativity include Lauronen et al. (2004). However, Lauronen et al. (2004) found a connection between affective disorders and creativity. Hypomanic states like those common in individuals with the bipolar disorder energize individuals and they become confident. In addition, a flurry of activities crosses the minds of such persons, thus leading to creative thinking. The implication of the above is that an individual’s state of mental health, which to a certain degree constitutes one’s context, contributes to the manner in which an individual handles issues. Given the creativity link to such disorders, it is observed that people suffering from such disorders are more likely to tackle problems differently from those who do not suffer from the disorder. 

If a given context allows for rewards, a possibility exists that participants in an exercise or event will be motivated to cheat or be dishonest. MacLean (n.d.) observes that when people are asked to solve problems individually with the aim of giving them rewards, the possibility of lying increases. From the above revelation, it is observed that the expectation of a performer of a task is a factor that influences how he/ she resolves an issue. As mentioned above, in case of rewards people want to cheat in order to benefit while handling issues. However, in the absence of rewards the motivation to cheat in resolving an issue declines. In this regard, it is held that the context within which an issue occurs influences the conduct or methods that a doer uses.

In his analysis based on various studies, MacLean (n.d.) found that circumstances were key determinants of creativity. For instance, when faced with a dilemma, an individual who is creative does not care about honesty. What matters to such a person is coming up with a solution to the problem at hand. As MacLean (n.d.) found, many of those individuals who cared about the rules were more likely to be less creative.

Interpersonal interactions are also a form of the contextual environment. Under the attribute, the focal point is how an individual relates with others (MacLean, n.d.). In addition, past experiences with other persons also play a role in influencing an individual’s approach to issues. In this regard, reference is made to day-to-day encounters. If an individual comes across Narcissist or Machiavellian personalities, their behaviour is likely to be different. For instance, if a worker operates under a Machiavellian leader who does not pay attention to ethics, such a worker will be forced to work by the Machiavellian principles in solving issues. However, in instances when leadership is democratic, there exists a possibility that work or development of solutions to issues will differ. The difference arises because the approach that leadership takes is dissimilar. For instance, it is possible that persons operating under an open democratic space will be able to voice their opinions and come up with novel ways to addressing an issue of concern. However, it cannot be applied to a place dominated by Narcissist leaders since such personalities do not allow for divergent opinion (MacLean, n.d.). Thus, the leadership context has an effect on the manner in which people respond to challenges. Based on the above discussion, it is held that an open leadership allows for the use of many approaches to handling problems, while a closed leadership conditions people’ responses to a specific way of tackling challenges.

Phenomenology also highlights how contextual factors influence problem-solving. According to Stenner and Lazard (n.d.), the phenomenological practice, which entails placing the idea of reality in brackets, influences how individuals address problems. For instance, jealousy is a trait that characterises behaviour of some individuals towards others. Jealous persons become unhappy when their rivals are thought to be doing well or are actually progressing. In such circumstances, the jealous person might resort to different sorts of tactics to undermine the other party or to do something to move ahead. As a result, the way in which the jealous person addresses problems differs from the manner in which others do. Overall, jealousy constitutes human experience and plays a part in the way people address issues.

Peoples’ construction of reality is also affected by circumstances. In their exploration of discursive psychology, Stenner and Lazard (n.d.) voice an opinion that reality differs from one person to another. In practice, people tend to respond to issues based on their construction of reality. It is a common occurrence to find that what an individual holds to be true is not true after all. In addition, what person A holds to be true might be different from what person B views as truthful. Given that people are often focused on relying on their knowledge to evaluate and resolve problems, their states of knowledge play an influential role. The overall idea is that people have subjective experiences that they rely on in addressing issues.

Sound and Problem-Solving

It is often assumed that when in the middle of accomplishing a task such as handling an assignment, it is better to work away from noise. The same applies to instances involving attempts to generate new ideas. As a result, individuals who are concentrating on a task are advised to operate in a quiet room. However, studies have shown that such allegations are not correct since a certain volume of noise is appropriate (Carriere, Cheyne, Solman, & Smilek, 2010). In particular, sound ranging from 70 to 80 decibel points is thought to be helpful in triggering creativity. In other words, individuals operating in a moderate noise environment perform better than those in environments without noise. Carriere et al. (2010) found that in the absence of any noise, people concentrated on their focal task, thus suffering from a limitation in thinking. In such circumstances, a little distraction such as the one from some background noise becomes essential. Apparently, in psychological terminology some noise in the background generates a feeling of ‘disfluency’.

A complete focus on a task leads to narrow-mindedness. On the contrary, creativity borders on the generation of distant associations to the existing stimulus that leads to the emergency of fresh insights (Carriere et al., 2010). In this regard, the ‘disfluency’ that results from the noise allows an individual to momentarily wander away from the main task. Although such a process is fast-paced and unconscious, it is helpful in handling challenges that entail coming up with new ideas.

Colour and Problem-Solving

Colour is another contextual factor that influences how individuals handle challenges.  After a review of the literature, Carriere et al. (2010) found that it was not clear if red or blue had an effect on how individuals address challenges. Based on an extensive review, the authors came up with a middle ground concerning the matter. In particular, the researchers indicated that if a task required accuracy, colour red was critical, while blue was essential in circumstances requiring creativity. 

The reason blue was rated as supportive of creativity was linked to associations people make with the colour to the ocean and the sky. Based on such history, people adopt an approach mind-set (Carriere et al., 2010). Such a perspective pushes people to be more open-minded and more likely to take risks. Overall, the conditions allow for the generation of new ideas. On the contrary, people associate colour red with traffic lights, ambulances, and blood. In practice, the above aspects are linked to mistake or danger signs. Whenever people contemplate the above issues, they switch into an avoidance mode. Therefore, they become cautious and vigilant to avoid risk. In such case, individuals handle challenges that are detail-oriented better.


The paper finds evidence in support of the view that contextual factors improve human problem-solving abilities. For instance, the level of development of an individual is a factor influencing his/her ability to address problems. Perhaps, the difference in the level of cognition development explains existing dissimilarities. The paper also establishes that social interactions and experiences influence problem-solving abilities. Other factors in support of the position include environmental changes such as changes in temperatures, noise, and colour. As a result, it is held that contextual factors improve human problem-solving abilities through their influence on perceptions or cognition levels of individuals.

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