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The effect of incidental hints when problems are suspended before, during, or after an impasse.
Two studies examine how the time at which problem solving is suspended relative to an impasse affects the impact of incidental hints. An impasse is a point in problem solving at which a problem solver is not making progress and does not know how to proceed. In both studies, work on remote associates problems was suspended before an impasse was reached, at the time an impasse was reached, or after a period of continued work during an impasse. After problem solving was suspended on a set of problems, participants completed a lexical decision task before resuming work on the set of unsolved problems. For half of the problems suspended during each impasse state, solution words were presented as incidental hints in the lexical decision task. The proportion of initially unsolved problems that were solved after the intervening lexical decision task was greater when problem solving was suspended at the point an impasse was reached than when problem solving was suspended before an impasse or after a period of continued work during an impasse. These results suggest that suspending problem solving at the point of impasse may increase susceptibility to incidentally presented hints. The point of impasse may be an opportune time for hints because the problem has been explored but there has not been a large increase in fixation on failed solution attempts.