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Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

mental ability problem solving

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

mental ability problem solving

  • Identify the Problem
  • Define the Problem
  • Form a Strategy
  • Organize Information
  • Allocate Resources
  • Monitor Progress
  • Evaluate the Results

Frequently Asked Questions

Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue.

The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.

It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.

In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Researchers sometimes refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.

The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.

1. Identifying the Problem

While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

Some strategies that you might use to figure out the source of a problem include :

  • Asking questions about the problem
  • Breaking the problem down into smaller pieces
  • Looking at the problem from different perspectives
  • Conducting research to figure out what relationships exist between different variables

2. Defining the Problem

After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved. You can define a problem by operationally defining each aspect of the problem and setting goals for what aspects of the problem you will address

At this point, you should focus on figuring out which aspects of the problems are facts and which are opinions. State the problem clearly and identify the scope of the solution.

3. Forming a Strategy

After the problem has been identified, it is time to start brainstorming potential solutions. This step usually involves generating as many ideas as possible without judging their quality. Once several possibilities have been generated, they can be evaluated and narrowed down.

The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual's unique preferences. Common problem-solving strategies include heuristics and algorithms.

  • Heuristics are mental shortcuts that are often based on solutions that have worked in the past. They can work well if the problem is similar to something you have encountered before and are often the best choice if you need a fast solution.
  • Algorithms are step-by-step strategies that are guaranteed to produce a correct result. While this approach is great for accuracy, it can also consume time and resources.

Heuristics are often best used when time is of the essence, while algorithms are a better choice when a decision needs to be as accurate as possible.

4. Organizing Information

Before coming up with a solution, you need to first organize the available information. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? The more information that is available the better prepared you will be to come up with an accurate solution.

When approaching a problem, it is important to make sure that you have all the data you need. Making a decision without adequate information can lead to biased or inaccurate results.

5. Allocating Resources

Of course, we don't always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is.

If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources on coming up with a solution.

At this stage, it is important to consider all of the factors that might affect the problem at hand. This includes looking at the available resources, deadlines that need to be met, and any possible risks involved in each solution. After careful evaluation, a decision can be made about which solution to pursue.

6. Monitoring Progress

After selecting a problem-solving strategy, it is time to put the plan into action and see if it works. This step might involve trying out different solutions to see which one is the most effective.

It is also important to monitor the situation after implementing a solution to ensure that the problem has been solved and that no new problems have arisen as a result of the proposed solution.

Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies .

7. Evaluating the Results

After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.

Once a problem has been solved, it is important to take some time to reflect on the process that was used and evaluate the results. This will help you to improve your problem-solving skills and become more efficient at solving future problems.

A Word From Verywell​

It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps, and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.

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You can become a better problem solving by:

  • Practicing brainstorming and coming up with multiple potential solutions to problems
  • Being open-minded and considering all possible options before making a decision
  • Breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Researching different problem-solving techniques and trying out new ones
  • Learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities to grow

It's important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what's going on. Try to see things from their perspective as well as your own. Work together to find a resolution that works for both of you. Be willing to compromise and accept that there may not be a perfect solution.

Take breaks if things are getting too heated, and come back to the problem when you feel calm and collected. Don't try to fix every problem on your own—consider asking a therapist or counselor for help and insight.

If you've tried everything and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix the problem, you may have to learn to accept it. This can be difficult, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember that every situation is temporary. Don't dwell on what's going wrong—instead, think about what's going right. Find support by talking to friends or family. Seek professional help if you're having trouble coping.

Davidson JE, Sternberg RJ, editors.  The Psychology of Problem Solving .  Cambridge University Press; 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

10 Best Problem-Solving Therapy Worksheets & Activities

Problem solving therapy

Cognitive science tells us that we regularly face not only well-defined problems but, importantly, many that are ill defined (Eysenck & Keane, 2015).

Sometimes, we find ourselves unable to overcome our daily problems or the inevitable (though hopefully infrequent) life traumas we face.

Problem-Solving Therapy aims to reduce the incidence and impact of mental health disorders and improve wellbeing by helping clients face life’s difficulties (Dobson, 2011).

This article introduces Problem-Solving Therapy and offers techniques, activities, and worksheets that mental health professionals can use with clients.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free . These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

This Article Contains:

What is problem-solving therapy, 14 steps for problem-solving therapy, 3 best interventions and techniques, 7 activities and worksheets for your session, fascinating books on the topic, resources from positivepsychology.com, a take-home message.

Problem-Solving Therapy assumes that mental disorders arise in response to ineffective or maladaptive coping. By adopting a more realistic and optimistic view of coping, individuals can understand the role of emotions and develop actions to reduce distress and maintain mental wellbeing (Nezu & Nezu, 2009).

“Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a psychosocial intervention, generally considered to be under a cognitive-behavioral umbrella” (Nezu, Nezu, & D’Zurilla, 2013, p. ix). It aims to encourage the client to cope better with day-to-day problems and traumatic events and reduce their impact on mental and physical wellbeing.

Clinical research, counseling, and health psychology have shown PST to be highly effective in clients of all ages, ranging from children to the elderly, across multiple clinical settings, including schizophrenia, stress, and anxiety disorders (Dobson, 2011).

Can it help with depression?

PST appears particularly helpful in treating clients with depression. A recent analysis of 30 studies found that PST was an effective treatment with a similar degree of success as other successful therapies targeting depression (Cuijpers, Wit, Kleiboer, Karyotaki, & Ebert, 2020).

Other studies confirm the value of PST and its effectiveness at treating depression in multiple age groups and its capacity to combine with other therapies, including drug treatments (Dobson, 2011).

The major concepts

Effective coping varies depending on the situation, and treatment typically focuses on improving the environment and reducing emotional distress (Dobson, 2011).

PST is based on two overlapping models:

Social problem-solving model

This model focuses on solving the problem “as it occurs in the natural social environment,” combined with a general coping strategy and a method of self-control (Dobson, 2011, p. 198).

The model includes three central concepts:

  • Social problem-solving
  • The problem
  • The solution

The model is a “self-directed cognitive-behavioral process by which an individual, couple, or group attempts to identify or discover effective solutions for specific problems encountered in everyday living” (Dobson, 2011, p. 199).

Relational problem-solving model

The theory of PST is underpinned by a relational problem-solving model, whereby stress is viewed in terms of the relationships between three factors:

  • Stressful life events
  • Emotional distress and wellbeing
  • Problem-solving coping

Therefore, when a significant adverse life event occurs, it may require “sweeping readjustments in a person’s life” (Dobson, 2011, p. 202).

mental ability problem solving

  • Enhance positive problem orientation
  • Decrease negative orientation
  • Foster ability to apply rational problem-solving skills
  • Reduce the tendency to avoid problem-solving
  • Minimize the tendency to be careless and impulsive

D’Zurilla’s and Nezu’s model includes (modified from Dobson, 2011):

  • Initial structuring Establish a positive therapeutic relationship that encourages optimism and explains the PST approach.
  • Assessment Formally and informally assess areas of stress in the client’s life and their problem-solving strengths and weaknesses.
  • Obstacles to effective problem-solving Explore typically human challenges to problem-solving, such as multitasking and the negative impact of stress. Introduce tools that can help, such as making lists, visualization, and breaking complex problems down.
  • Problem orientation – fostering self-efficacy Introduce the importance of a positive problem orientation, adopting tools, such as visualization, to promote self-efficacy.
  • Problem orientation – recognizing problems Help clients recognize issues as they occur and use problem checklists to ‘normalize’ the experience.
  • Problem orientation – seeing problems as challenges Encourage clients to break free of harmful and restricted ways of thinking while learning how to argue from another point of view.
  • Problem orientation – use and control emotions Help clients understand the role of emotions in problem-solving, including using feelings to inform the process and managing disruptive emotions (such as cognitive reframing and relaxation exercises).
  • Problem orientation – stop and think Teach clients how to reduce impulsive and avoidance tendencies (visualizing a stop sign or traffic light).
  • Problem definition and formulation Encourage an understanding of the nature of problems and set realistic goals and objectives.
  • Generation of alternatives Work with clients to help them recognize the wide range of potential solutions to each problem (for example, brainstorming).
  • Decision-making Encourage better decision-making through an improved understanding of the consequences of decisions and the value and likelihood of different outcomes.
  • Solution implementation and verification Foster the client’s ability to carry out a solution plan, monitor its outcome, evaluate its effectiveness, and use self-reinforcement to increase the chance of success.
  • Guided practice Encourage the application of problem-solving skills across multiple domains and future stressful problems.
  • Rapid problem-solving Teach clients how to apply problem-solving questions and guidelines quickly in any given situation.

Success in PST depends on the effectiveness of its implementation; using the right approach is crucial (Dobson, 2011).

Problem-solving therapy – Baycrest

The following interventions and techniques are helpful when implementing more effective problem-solving approaches in client’s lives.

First, it is essential to consider if PST is the best approach for the client, based on the problems they present.

Is PPT appropriate?

It is vital to consider whether PST is appropriate for the client’s situation. Therapists new to the approach may require additional guidance (Nezu et al., 2013).

Therapists should consider the following questions before beginning PST with a client (modified from Nezu et al., 2013):

  • Has PST proven effective in the past for the problem? For example, research has shown success with depression, generalized anxiety, back pain, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and supporting caregivers (Nezu et al., 2013).
  • Is PST acceptable to the client?
  • Is the individual experiencing a significant mental or physical health problem?

All affirmative answers suggest that PST would be a helpful technique to apply in this instance.

Five problem-solving steps

The following five steps are valuable when working with clients to help them cope with and manage their environment (modified from Dobson, 2011).

Ask the client to consider the following points (forming the acronym ADAPT) when confronted by a problem:

  • Attitude Aim to adopt a positive, optimistic attitude to the problem and problem-solving process.
  • Define Obtain all required facts and details of potential obstacles to define the problem.
  • Alternatives Identify various alternative solutions and actions to overcome the obstacle and achieve the problem-solving goal.
  • Predict Predict each alternative’s positive and negative outcomes and choose the one most likely to achieve the goal and maximize the benefits.
  • Try out Once selected, try out the solution and monitor its effectiveness while engaging in self-reinforcement.

If the client is not satisfied with their solution, they can return to step ‘A’ and find a more appropriate solution.

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Positive self-statements

When dealing with clients facing negative self-beliefs, it can be helpful for them to use positive self-statements.

Use the following (or add new) self-statements to replace harmful, negative thinking (modified from Dobson, 2011):

  • I can solve this problem; I’ve tackled similar ones before.
  • I can cope with this.
  • I just need to take a breath and relax.
  • Once I start, it will be easier.
  • It’s okay to look out for myself.
  • I can get help if needed.
  • Other people feel the same way I do.
  • I’ll take one piece of the problem at a time.
  • I can keep my fears in check.
  • I don’t need to please everyone.

Worksheets for problem solving therapy

5 Worksheets and workbooks

Problem-solving self-monitoring form.

Answering the questions in the Problem-Solving Self-Monitoring Form provides the therapist with necessary information regarding the client’s overall and specific problem-solving approaches and reactions (Dobson, 2011).

Ask the client to complete the following:

  • Describe the problem you are facing.
  • What is your goal?
  • What have you tried so far to solve the problem?
  • What was the outcome?

Reactions to Stress

It can be helpful for the client to recognize their own experiences of stress. Do they react angrily, withdraw, or give up (Dobson, 2011)?

The Reactions to Stress worksheet can be given to the client as homework to capture stressful events and their reactions. By recording how they felt, behaved, and thought, they can recognize repeating patterns.

What Are Your Unique Triggers?

Helping clients capture triggers for their stressful reactions can encourage emotional regulation.

When clients can identify triggers that may lead to a negative response, they can stop the experience or slow down their emotional reaction (Dobson, 2011).

The What Are Your Unique Triggers ? worksheet helps the client identify their triggers (e.g., conflict, relationships, physical environment, etc.).

Problem-Solving worksheet

Imagining an existing or potential problem and working through how to resolve it can be a powerful exercise for the client.

Use the Problem-Solving worksheet to state a problem and goal and consider the obstacles in the way. Then explore options for achieving the goal, along with their pros and cons, to assess the best action plan.

Getting the Facts

Clients can become better equipped to tackle problems and choose the right course of action by recognizing facts versus assumptions and gathering all the necessary information (Dobson, 2011).

Use the Getting the Facts worksheet to answer the following questions clearly and unambiguously:

  • Who is involved?
  • What did or did not happen, and how did it bother you?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did you respond?

2 Helpful Group Activities

While therapists can use the worksheets above in group situations, the following two interventions work particularly well with more than one person.

Generating Alternative Solutions and Better Decision-Making

A group setting can provide an ideal opportunity to share a problem and identify potential solutions arising from multiple perspectives.

Use the Generating Alternative Solutions and Better Decision-Making worksheet and ask the client to explain the situation or problem to the group and the obstacles in the way.

Once the approaches are captured and reviewed, the individual can share their decision-making process with the group if they want further feedback.


Visualization can be performed with individuals or in a group setting to help clients solve problems in multiple ways, including (Dobson, 2011):

  • Clarifying the problem by looking at it from multiple perspectives
  • Rehearsing a solution in the mind to improve and get more practice
  • Visualizing a ‘safe place’ for relaxation, slowing down, and stress management

Guided imagery is particularly valuable for encouraging the group to take a ‘mental vacation’ and let go of stress.

Ask the group to begin with slow, deep breathing that fills the entire diaphragm. Then ask them to visualize a favorite scene (real or imagined) that makes them feel relaxed, perhaps beside a gently flowing river, a summer meadow, or at the beach.

The more the senses are engaged, the more real the experience. Ask the group to think about what they can hear, see, touch, smell, and even taste.

Encourage them to experience the situation as fully as possible, immersing themselves and enjoying their place of safety.

Such feelings of relaxation may be able to help clients fall asleep, relieve stress, and become more ready to solve problems.

We have included three of our favorite books on the subject of Problem-Solving Therapy below.

1. Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual – Arthur Nezu, Christine Maguth Nezu, and Thomas D’Zurilla

Problem-Solving Therapy

This is an incredibly valuable book for anyone wishing to understand the principles and practice behind PST.

Written by the co-developers of PST, the manual provides powerful toolkits to overcome cognitive overload, emotional dysregulation, and the barriers to practical problem-solving.

Find the book on Amazon .

2. Emotion-Centered Problem-Solving Therapy: Treatment Guidelines – Arthur Nezu and Christine Maguth Nezu

Emotion-Centered Problem-Solving Therapy

Another, more recent, book from the creators of PST, this text includes important advances in neuroscience underpinning the role of emotion in behavioral treatment.

Along with clinical examples, the book also includes crucial toolkits that form part of a stepped model for the application of PST.

3. Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies – Keith Dobson and David Dozois

Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies

This is the fourth edition of a hugely popular guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies and includes a valuable and insightful section on Problem-Solving Therapy.

This is an important book for students and more experienced therapists wishing to form a high-level and in-depth understanding of the tools and techniques available to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.

For even more tools to help strengthen your clients’ problem-solving skills, check out the following free worksheets from our blog.

  • Case Formulation Worksheet This worksheet presents a four-step framework to help therapists and their clients come to a shared understanding of the client’s presenting problem.
  • Understanding Your Default Problem-Solving Approach This worksheet poses a series of questions helping clients reflect on their typical cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to problems.
  • Social Problem Solving: Step by Step This worksheet presents a streamlined template to help clients define a problem, generate possible courses of action, and evaluate the effectiveness of an implemented solution.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

mental ability problem solving

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While we are born problem-solvers, facing an incredibly diverse set of challenges daily, we sometimes need support.

Problem-Solving Therapy aims to reduce stress and associated mental health disorders and improve wellbeing by improving our ability to cope. PST is valuable in diverse clinical settings, ranging from depression to schizophrenia, with research suggesting it as a highly effective treatment for teaching coping strategies and reducing emotional distress.

Many PST techniques are available to help improve clients’ positive outlook on obstacles while reducing avoidance of problem situations and the tendency to be careless and impulsive.

The PST model typically assesses the client’s strengths, weaknesses, and coping strategies when facing problems before encouraging a healthy experience of and relationship with problem-solving.

Why not use this article to explore the theory behind PST and try out some of our powerful tools and interventions with your clients to help them with their decision-making, coping, and problem-solving?

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free .

  • Cuijpers, P., Wit, L., Kleiboer, A., Karyotaki, E., & Ebert, D. (2020). Problem-solving therapy for adult depression: An updated meta-analysis. European P sychiatry ,  48 (1), 27–37.
  • Dobson, K. S. (2011). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Dobson, K. S., & Dozois, D. J. A. (2021). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies  (4th ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Eysenck, M. W., & Keane, M. T. (2015). Cognitive psychology: A student’s handbook . Psychology Press.
  • Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (2009). Problem-solving therapy DVD . Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310852
  • Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (2018). Emotion-centered problem-solving therapy: Treatment guidelines. Springer.
  • Nezu, A. M., Nezu, C. M., & D’Zurilla, T. J. (2013). Problem-solving therapy: A treatment manual . Springer.

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Lauren Florko Ph.D.

How to Build Your Problem-Solving Skills

Get curious, think big, and get outside of your comfort zone..

Posted March 4, 2022 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods

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  • Get curious to alternative perspectives and viewpoints.
  • Daydream without restrictions to break thought patterns.
  • Think of alternative ways to do things should you need to be flexible.

People say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I prefer the expression "it takes more effort to teach an old dog new tricks." Any time you want to learn something new it takes your brain a great amount of energy to build new neural pathways. If you are trying to change something you've already learned, it takes extra effort to build pathways that override the previous ones.

There are many ways to help build new skills, particularly problem-solving skills; they start with getting curious, thinking big, and then trying new things.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Get Curious

It will be hard to learn anything unless you are genuinely interested in it. So find ways to get curious. You can align the new topic to something that already motivates you—this can be a passion, a value, an attribute you like about yourself, or a goal you have. For example, you may want to be that go-to expert or may want to develop deeper relationships with others. Choose whatever will keep you engaged in the learning and build upon that. From there, here are some tips on how to get curious:

  • Block out time in your calendar to get curious, either in isolation or with others
  • Ponder and expose yourself to how people from an opposing viewpoint see a topic
  • Ask others their opinion or their input before making a choice
  • Ask people to walk you through how they made previous decisions
  • Reflect back on successes and failures: were there themes?
  • Have coffee with colleagues once-removed to understand what they do and figure out how your roles may intertwine
  • Find connections between others or the bigger picture. For example, how do the other department's objectives impact your day-to-day? How do your customers' actions impact your role?
  • Read the news and determine how events/laws/policies impact you or your organization

To see if you are building on your knowledge from someone else's viewpoint, say summary statements of what you have heard and whether you have heard them correctly.

Once you have had time to get curious and gather information, it's time to dream big. What would you do with unlimited time, money, and resources? What would you do if there were no office politics or bureaucracy? "Blue sky" thinking can help you get outside existing processes and thought patterns to find new solutions. Some tips on how to build daydreaming into your routine are:

  • Schedule time for daydreaming and block out distractions (either individually or as part of a team)
  • Break the adrenaline rush of firefighting the small problems. The quick checklist items feel good in the moment but don't contribute to your sense of meaning or purpose in your work
  • Think one step ahead, about how others may react to your moves
  • Become a student of the competitor. Act as if you are an employee of the competitor and try to understand why they are choosing their strategy
  • Consider how your daydreams could become reality. How much effort and resources are needed and compare it to the potential payoff

To check yourself on this is to see whether you are actually spending the time daydreaming. Whether it's weekly/monthly/quarterly, hold yourself accountable for achieving this goal.

Work outside your comfort zone

It's one thing to have a well-thought-out plan, but it's another to be able to flex that plan at a moment's notice. If you have done your due diligence in getting curious and daydreaming, you will know the pros/cons of contingency plans by understanding the drivers, the downstream implications, and who needs to be looped in. Here are some ideas and tips on how to try different solutions:

  • Make "what if" plans for likely risks/bumps in the process
  • Take on a task that is ambiguous or has a high likelihood of failing
  • Do a feasibility study to determine potential risks/rewards of a new idea
  • If and when resources are limited, look for alternatives (e.g., what tasks can be done with tightened budgets)
  • Offer to do the budget or forecast
  • Get out of perfectionist thinking and recognize when 80 percent is good enough

You will know your problem-solving skills are developing when you begin to get excited about change and ambiguity rather than anxious .

As learning and trying new things becomes more exciting and second nature, you will find that this energy transfers across your whole life. You are more likely to gain empathy for others , you can build resilience during stressful times , and you gain confidence and self-esteem to take on bigger challenges.

Lauren Florko Ph.D.

Lauren Florko has a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She also owns her own company, Triple Threat Consulting, based out of Vancouver, British Columbia.

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Understanding what emotional intelligence looks like and the steps needed to improve it could light a path to a more emotionally adept world.

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Chapter 7: Thinking and Intelligence

Solving problems.

People face problems every day—usually, multiple problems throughout the day. Sometimes these problems are straightforward: To double a recipe for pizza dough, for example, all that is required is that each ingredient in the recipe be doubled. Sometimes, however, the problems we encounter are more complex. For example, say you have a work deadline, and you must mail a printed copy of a report to your supervisor by the end of the business day. The report is time-sensitive and must be sent overnight. You finished the report last night, but your printer will not work today. What should you do? First, you need to identify the problem and then apply a strategy for solving the problem.

Problem-Solving Strategies

When you are presented with a problem—whether it is a complex mathematical problem or a broken printer, how do you solve it? Before finding a solution to the problem, the problem must first be clearly identified. After that, one of many problem-solving strategies can be applied, hopefully resulting in a solution.

Video 1. Problem Solving explains strategies used for solving problems.

A problem-solving strategy is a plan of action used to find a solution. Different strategies have different action plans associated with them. For example, a well-known strategy is trial and error . The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” describes trial and error. In terms of your broken printer, you could try checking the ink levels, and if that doesn’t work, you could check to make sure the paper tray isn’t jammed. Or maybe the printer isn’t actually connected to your laptop. When using trial and error, you would continue to try different solutions until you solved your problem. Although trial and error is not typically one of the most time-efficient strategies, it is a commonly used one.

Another type of strategy is an algorithm. An algorithm is a problem-solving formula that provides you with step-by-step instructions used to achieve the desired outcome (Kahneman, 2011). You can think of an algorithm as a recipe with highly detailed instructions that produce the same result every time they are performed. Algorithms are used frequently in our everyday lives, especially in computer science. When you run a search on the Internet, search engines like Google use algorithms to decide which entries will appear first in your list of results. Facebook also uses algorithms to decide which posts to display on your newsfeed. Can you identify other situations in which algorithms are used?

A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A “rule of thumb” is an example of a heuristic. Such a rule saves the person time and energy when making a decision, but despite its time-saving characteristics, it is not always the best method for making a rational decision. Different types of heuristics are used in different types of situations, but the impulse to use a heuristic occurs when one of five conditions is met (Pratkanis, 1989):

  • When one is faced with too much information
  • When the time to make a decision is limited
  • When the decision to be made is unimportant
  • When there is access to very little information to use in making the decision
  • When an appropriate heuristic happens to come to mind in the same moment

Working backward is a useful heuristic in which you begin solving the problem by focusing on the end result. Consider this example: You live in Washington, D.C., and have been invited to a wedding at 4 PM on Saturday in Philadelphia. Knowing that Interstate 95 tends to back up any day of the week, you need to plan your route and time your departure accordingly. If you want to be at the wedding service by 3:30 PM, and it takes 2.5 hours to get to Philadelphia without traffic, what time should you leave your house? You use the working backward heuristic to plan the events of your day on a regular basis, probably without even thinking about it.

Video 2.  What problem-solving method could you use to solve Einstein’s famous riddle?

Another useful heuristic is the practice of accomplishing a large goal or task by breaking it into a series of smaller steps. Students often use this common method to complete a large research project or long essay for school. For example, students typically brainstorm, develop a thesis or main topic, research the chosen topic, organize their information into an outline, write a rough draft, revise and edit the rough draft, develop a final draft, organize the references list, and proofread their work before turning in the project. The large task becomes less overwhelming when it is broken down into a series of small steps.

Everyday Connections: Solving Puzzles

Problem-solving abilities can improve with practice. Many people challenge themselves every day with puzzles and other mental exercises to sharpen their problem-solving skills. Sudoku puzzles appear daily in most newspapers. Typically, a sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid. The simple sudoku below (Figure 1) is a 4×4 grid. To solve the puzzle, fill in the empty boxes with a single digit: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Here are the rules: The numbers must total 10 in each bolded box, each row, and each column; however, each digit can only appear once in a bolded box, row, and column. Time yourself as you solve this puzzle and compare your time with a classmate.

A four column by four row Sudoku puzzle is shown. The top left cell contains the number 3. The top right cell contains the number 2. The bottom right cell contains the number 1. The bottom left cell contains the number 4. The cell at the intersection of the second row and the second column contains the number 4. The cell to the right of that contains the number 1. The cell below the cell containing the number 1 contains the number 2. The cell to the left of the cell containing the number 2 contains the number 3.

Figure 1 . How long did it take you to solve this sudoku puzzle? (You can see the answer at the end of this section.)

Here is another popular type of puzzle that challenges your spatial reasoning skills. Connect all nine dots with four connecting straight lines without lifting your pencil from the paper:

A square shaped outline contains three rows and three columns of dots with equal space between them.

Figure 2. Did you figure it out? (The answer is at the end of this section.) Once you understand how to crack this puzzle, you won’t forget.

Take a look at the “Puzzling Scales” logic puzzle below (Figure 3). Sam Loyd, a well-known puzzle master, created and refined countless puzzles throughout his lifetime (Cyclopedia of Puzzles, n.d.).

A puzzle involving a scale is shown. At the top of the figure it reads: “Sam Loyds Puzzling Scales.” The first row of the puzzle shows a balanced scale with 3 blocks and a top on the left and 12 marbles on the right. Below this row it reads: “Since the scales now balance.” The next row of the puzzle shows a balanced scale with just the top on the left, and 1 block and 8 marbles on the right. Below this row it reads: “And balance when arranged this way.” The third row shows an unbalanced scale with the top on the left side, which is much lower than the right side. The right side is empty. Below this row it reads: “Then how many marbles will it require to balance with that top?”

Figure 3 . The puzzle reads, “Since the scales now balance…and balance when arranged this way, then how many marbles will it require to balance with that top?

Were you able to determine how many marbles are needed to balance the scales in the Puzzling Scales? You need nine. Were you able to solve the other problems above? Here are the answers:

The first puzzle is a Sudoku grid of 16 squares (4 rows of 4 squares) is shown. Half of the numbers were supplied to start the puzzle and are colored blue, and half have been filled in as the puzzle’s solution and are colored red. The numbers in each row of the grid, left to right, are as follows. Row 1: blue 3, red 1, red 4, blue 2. Row 2: red 2, blue 4, blue 1, red 3. Row 3: red 1, blue 3, blue 2, red 4. Row 4: blue 4, red 2, red 3, blue 1.The second puzzle consists of 9 dots arranged in 3 rows of 3 inside of a square. The solution, four straight lines made without lifting the pencil, is shown in a red line with arrows indicating the direction of movement. In order to solve the puzzle, the lines must extend beyond the borders of the box. The four connecting lines are drawn as follows. Line 1 begins at the top left dot, proceeds through the middle and right dots of the top row, and extends to the right beyond the border of the square. Line 2 extends from the end of line 1, through the right dot of the horizontally centered row, through the middle dot of the bottom row, and beyond the square’s border ending in the space beneath the left dot of the bottom row. Line 3 extends from the end of line 2 upwards through the left dots of the bottom, middle, and top rows. Line 4 extends from the end of line 3 through the middle dot in the middle row and ends at the right dot of the bottom row.

Pitfalls to Problem-Solving

Not all problems are successfully solved, however. What challenges stop us from successfully solving a problem?

Video 3.   Cognitive Biases: What They Are , Why They’re Important provides an introduction to the many cognitive biases that prevent us from always thinking clearly and rationally.

Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Imagine a person in a room that has four doorways. One doorway that has always been open in the past is now locked. The person, accustomed to exiting the room by that particular doorway, keeps trying to get out through the same doorway even though the other three doorways are open. The person is stuck—but she just needs to go to another doorway, instead of trying to get out through the locked doorway. A mental set is where you persist in approaching a problem in a way that has worked in the past but is clearly not working now.  Functional fixedness is a type of mental set where you cannot perceive an object being used for something other than what it was designed for. During the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, NASA engineers at Mission Control had to overcome functional fixedness to save the lives of the astronauts aboard the spacecraft. An explosion in a module of the spacecraft damaged multiple systems. The astronauts were in danger of being poisoned by rising levels of carbon dioxide because of problems with the carbon dioxide filters. The engineers found a way for the astronauts to use spare plastic bags, tape, and air hoses to create a makeshift air filter, which saved the lives of the astronauts.

Link to Learning

Check out this Apollo 13 scene where a group of NASA engineers is given the task of overcoming functional fixedness.

Researchers have investigated whether functional fixedness is affected by culture. In one experiment, individuals from the Shuar group in Ecuador were asked to use an object for a purpose other than that for which the object was originally intended. For example, the participants were told a story about a bear and a rabbit that were separated by a river and asked to select among various objects, including a spoon, a cup, erasers, and so on, to help the animals. The spoon was the only object long enough to span the imaginary river, but if the spoon was presented in a way that reflected its normal usage, it took participants longer to choose the spoon to solve the problem. (German & Barrett, 2005). The researchers wanted to know if exposure to highly specialized tools, as occurs with individuals in industrialized nations, affects their ability to transcend functional fixedness. It was determined that functional fixedness is experienced in both industrialized and nonindustrialized cultures (German & Barrett, 2005).

In order to make good decisions, we use our knowledge and our reasoning. Often, this knowledge and reasoning is sound and solid. Sometimes, however, we are swayed by biases or by others manipulating a situation. For example, let’s say you and three friends wanted to rent a house and had a combined target budget of $1,600. The realtor shows you only very run-down houses for $1,600 and then shows you a very nice house for $2,000. Might you ask each person to pay more in rent to get the $2,000 home? Why would the realtor show you the run-down houses and the nice house? The realtor may be challenging your anchoring bias. An anchoring bias occurs when you focus on one piece of information when making a decision or solving a problem. In this case, you’re so focused on the amount of money you are willing to spend that you may not recognize what kinds of houses are available at that price point.

Confirmation bias   is the tendency to focus on information that confirms your existing beliefs. For example, if you think that your professor is not very nice, you notice all of the instances of rude behavior exhibited by the professor while ignoring the countless pleasant interactions he is involved in on a daily basis. This bias proves that first impressions do matter and that we tend to look for information to confirm our initial judgments of others.

Video 4.  Watch this video from the Big Think to learn more about confirmation bias.

Hindsight bias leads you to believe that the event you just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t. In other words, you knew all along that things would turn out the way they did. Representative bias describes a faulty way of thinking, in which you unintentionally stereotype someone or something; for example, you may assume that your professors spend their free time reading books and engaging in intellectual conversation, because the idea of them spending their time playing volleyball or visiting an amusement park does not fit in with your stereotypes of professors.

Finally, the availability heuristic is a heuristic in which you make a decision based on an example, information, or recent experience that is that readily available to you, even though it may not be the best example to inform your decision . To use a common example, would you guess there are more murders or more suicides in America each year? When asked, most people would guess there are more murders. In truth, there are twice as many suicides as there are murders each year. However, murders seem more common because we hear a lot more about murders on an average day. Unless someone we know or someone famous takes their own life, it does not make the news. Murders, on the other hand, we see in the news every day. This leads to the erroneous assumption that the easier it is to think of instances of something, the more often that thing occurs.

Video 5.  Watch the following video for an example of the availability heuristic.

Biases tend to “preserve that which is already established—to maintain our preexisting knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and hypotheses” (Aronson, 1995; Kahneman, 2011). These biases are summarized in Table 2 below.

Learn more about heuristics and common biases through the article, “ 8 Common Thinking Mistakes Our Brains Make Every Day and How to Prevent Them ” by  Belle Beth Cooper.

You can also watch this clever music video explaining these and other cognitive biases.

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What Is Intelligence In Psychology

Charlotte Ruhl

Research Assistant & Psychology Graduate

BA (Hons) Psychology, Harvard University

Charlotte Ruhl, a psychology graduate from Harvard College, boasts over six years of research experience in clinical and social psychology. During her tenure at Harvard, she contributed to the Decision Science Lab, administering numerous studies in behavioral economics and social psychology.

Learn about our Editorial Process

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, PhD., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years of experience in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

On This Page:

Intelligence in psychology refers to the mental capacity to learn from experiences, adapt to new situations, understand and handle abstract concepts, and use knowledge to manipulate one’s environment. It includes skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, learning quickly, and understanding complex ideas.

Key Takeaways

  • Defining and classifying intelligence is extremely complicated. Theories of intelligence range from having one general intelligence (g) to certain primary mental abilities and multiple category-specific intelligences.
  • Following the creation of the Binet-Simon scale in the early 1900s, intelligence tests, now referred to as intelligence quotient (IQ) tests, are the most widely-known and used measure for determining an individual’s intelligence.
  • Although these tests are generally reliable and valid tools, they have flaws as they lack cultural specificity and can evoke stereotype threats and self-fulfilling prophecies.
  • IQ scores are normally distributed , meaning that 95% of the population has IQ scores between 70 and 130. However, some extreme examples exist of people with scores far exceeding 130 or far below 70.

Academic training with education and knowledge learning tiny person concept. School, college or university class course for cognitive process and smart professional skills program vector illustration

What Is Intelligence?

It might seem useless to define such a simple word. After all, we have all heard this word hundreds of times and probably have a general understanding of its meaning.

However, the concept of intelligence has been a widely debated topic among members of the psychology community for decades.

Intelligence has been defined in many ways: higher level abilities (such as abstract reasoning, mental representation, problem solving, and decision making), the ability to learn, emotional knowledge, creativity, and adaptation to meet the demands of the environment effectively.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg defined intelligence as “the mental abilities necessary for adaptation to, as well as shaping and selection of, any environmental context (1997, p. 1).

History of Intelligence

The study of human intelligence dates back to the late 1800s when Sir Francis Galton (the cousin of Charles Darwin) became one of the first to study intelligence.

Galton was interested in the concept of a gifted individual, so he created a lab to measure reaction times and other physical characteristics to test his hypothesis that intelligence is a general mental ability producing biological evolution (hello, Darwin!).

Galton theorized that because quickness and other physical attributes were evolutionarily advantageous, they would also provide a good indication of general mental ability (Jensen, 1982).

Thus, Galton operationalized intelligence as reaction time.

Operationalization is an important process in research that involves defining an unmeasurable phenomenon (such as intelligence) in measurable terms (such as reaction time), allowing the concept to be studied empirically (Crowthre-Heyck, 2005).

Galton’s study of intelligence in the laboratory setting and his theorization of the heritability of intelligence paved the way for decades of future research and debate in this field.

Theories of Intelligence

Some researchers argue that intelligence is a general ability, whereas others make the assertion that intelligence comprises specific skills and talents. Psychologists contend that intelligence is genetic, or inherited, and others claim that it is largely influenced by the surrounding environment.

As a result, psychologists have developed several contrasting theories of intelligence as well as individual tests that attempt to measure this very concept.

Spearman’s General Intelligence (g)

General intelligence, also known as g factor, refers to a general mental ability that, according to Spearman, underlies multiple specific skills, including verbal, spatial, numerical, and mechanical.

Charles Spearman, an English psychologist, established the two-factor theory of intelligence back in 1904 (Spearman, 1904). To arrive at this theory, Spearman used a technique known as factor analysis.

Factor analysis is a procedure through which the correlation of related variables is evaluated to find an underlying factor that explains this correlation.

In the case of intelligence, Spearman noticed that those who did well in one area of intelligence tests (for example, mathematics) also did well in other areas (such as distinguishing pitch; Kalat, 2014).

In other words, there was a strong correlation between performing well in math and music, and Spearman then attributed this relationship to a central factor, that of general intelligence (g).

Spearman concluded that there is a single g-factor that represents an individual’s general intelligence across multiple abilities and that a second factor, s, refers to an individual’s specific ability in one particular area (Spearman, as cited in Thomson, 1947).

General Intelligence and Specific Abilities

Together, these two main factors compose Spearman’s two-factor theory.

Thurstone’s Primary Mental Abilities

Thurstone (1938) challenged the concept of a g-factor. After analyzing data from 56 different tests of mental abilities, he identified a number of primary mental abilities that comprise intelligence as opposed to one general factor.

The seven primary mental abilities in Thurstone’s model are verbal comprehension, verbal fluency, number facility, spatial visualization, perceptual speed, memory, and inductive reasoning (Thurstone, as cited in Sternberg, 2003).

Although Thurstone did not reject Spearman’s idea of general intelligence altogether, he instead theorized that intelligence consists of both general ability and a number of specific abilities, paving the way for future research that examined the different forms of intelligence.

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

Following the work of Thurstone, American psychologist Howard Gardner built off the idea that there are multiple forms of intelligence.

He proposed that there is no single intelligence, but rather distinct, independent multiple intelligences exist, each representing unique skills and talents relevant to a certain category.

Gardner (1983, 1987) initially proposed seven multiple intelligences : linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal, and he has since added naturalist intelligence.

Multiple Intelligences

Gardner holds that most activities (such as dancing) will involve a combination of these multiple intelligences (such as spatial and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences). He also suggests that these multiple intelligences can help us understand concepts beyond intelligence, such as creativity and leadership .

And although this theory has widely captured the attention of the psychology community and the greater public, it does have its faults.

There have been few empirical studies that actually test this theory, and this theory does not account for other types of intelligence beyond the ones Gardner lists (Sternberg, 2003).

Triarchic Theory of Intelligence

Just two years later, in 1985, Robert Sternberg proposed a three-category theory of intelligence, integrating components that were lacking in Gardner’s theory. This theory is based on the definition of intelligence as the ability to achieve success based on your personal standards and your sociocultural context.

According to the triarchic theory, intelligence has three aspects: analytical, creative, and practical (Sternberg, 1985).

Analytical intelligence , also referred to as componential intelligence, refers to intelligence that is applied to analyze or evaluate problems and arrive at solutions. This is what a traditional IQ test measures.

Creative intelligence is the ability to go beyond what is given to create novel and interesting ideas. This type of intelligence involves imagination, innovation, and problem-solving.

Practical intelligence is the ability that individuals use to solve problems faced in daily life when a person finds the best fit between themselves and the demands of the environment.

Adapting to the demands of the environment involves either utilizing knowledge gained from experience to purposefully change oneself to suit the environment (adaptation), changing the environment to suit oneself (shaping), or finding a new environment in which to work (selection).

Other Types of Intelligence

After examining the popular competing theories of intelligence, it becomes clear that there are many different forms of this seemingly simple concept.

On the one hand, Spearman claims that intelligence is generalizable across many different areas of life, and on the other hand, psychologists such as Thurstone, Gardener, and Sternberg hold that intelligence is like a tree with many different branches, each representing a specific form of intelligence.

To make matters even more interesting, let’s throw a few more types of intelligence into the mix!

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is the “ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior” (Salovey and Mayer, 1990).

Emotional intelligence is important in our everyday lives, seeing as we experience one emotion or another nearly every second of our lives. You may not associate emotions and intelligence with one another, but in reality, they are very related.

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize the meanings of emotions and to reason and problem-solve on the basis of them (Mayer, Caruso, & Salovey, 1999). The four key components of emotional Intelligence are (i) self-awareness, (ii) self-management, (iii) social awareness, and (iv) relationship management.

Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies

In other words, if you are high in emotional intelligence, you can accurately perceive emotions in yourself and others (such as reading facial expressions), use emotions to help facilitate thinking, understand the meaning behind your emotions (why are you feeling this way?), and know how to manage your emotions (Salovey & Mayer, 1990).

Fluid vs. Crystallized Intelligence

Raymond Cattell (1963) first proposed the concepts of fluid and crystallized intelligence and further developed the theory with John Horn.

Fluid intelligence is the ability to problem solve in novel situations without referencing prior knowledge, but rather through the use of logic and abstract thinking. Fluid intelligence can be applied to any novel problem because no specific prior knowledge is required (Cattell, 1963). As you grow older fluid increases and then starts to decrease in the late 20s.
Crystallized intelligence refers to the use of previously-acquired knowledge, such as specific facts learned in school or specific motor skills or muscle memory (Cattell, 1963). As you grow older and accumulate knowledge, crystallized intelligence increases.

graph showing fluid and crystalized intelligence across the lifespan

The Cattell-Horn (1966) theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence suggests that intelligence is composed of a number of different abilities that interact and work together to produce overall individual intelligence.

For example, if you are taking a hard math test, you rely on your crystallized intelligence to process the numbers and meaning of the questions, but you may use fluid intelligence to work through the novel problem and arrive at the correct solution. It is also possible that fluid intelligence can become crystallized intelligence.

The novel solutions you create when relying on fluid intelligence can, over time, develop into crystallized intelligence after they are incorporated into long-term memory.

This illustrates some of the ways in which different forms of intelligence overlap and interact with one another, revealing its dynamic nature.

Intelligence Testing

Binet-simon scale.

During the early 1900s, the French government enlisted the help of psychologist Alfred Binet to understand which children were going to be slower learners and thus required more assistance in the classroom (Binet et al., 1912).

As a result, he and his colleague, Theodore Simon, began to develop a specific set of questions that focused on areas such as memory and problem-solving skills.

Binet-Simon Scale Item

They tested these questions on groups of students aged three to twelve to help standardize the measure (Binet et al., 1912). Binet realized that some children were able to answer advanced questions that their older peers were able to answer.

As a result, he created the concept of mental age, or how well an individual performs intellectually relative to the average performance at that age (Cherry, 2020).

Ultimately, Binet finalized the scale, known as the Binet-Simon scale, that became the basis for the intelligence tests still used today.

The Binet-Simon scale of 1905 comprised 30 items designed to measure judgment, comprehension, and reasoning, which Binet deemed the key characteristics of intelligence.

Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale

When the Binet-Simon scale made its way over to the United States, Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman adapted the test for American students and published the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale in 1916 (Cherry, 2020).

The Stanford-Binet Scale is a contemporary assessment that measures intelligence according to five features of cognitive ability,

including fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, and working memory. Both verbal and nonverbal responses are measured.

IQ normal distribution bell curve

This test used a single number, referred to as the intelligence quotient (IQ), to indicate an individual’s score.

The average score for the test is 100, and any score from 90 to 109 is considered to be in the average intelligence range. Scores from 110 to 119 are considered to be High Average. Superior scores range from 120 to 129 and anything over 130 is considered Very Superior.

To calculate IQ, the student’s mental age is divided by his or her actual (or chronological) age, and this result is multiplied by 100. If your mental age is equal to your chronological age, you will have an IQ of 100, or average. If your mental age is 12, but your chronological age is only 10, you will have an above-average IQ of 120.


Just as theories of intelligence build off one another, intelligence tests do too. After Terman created Stanford-Binet test, American psychologist David Wechsler developed a new tool due to his dissatisfaction with the limitations of the Stanford-Binet test (Cherry, 2020).

Like Thurstone, Gardner, and Sternberg, Wechsler believed intelligence involved many different mental abilities and felt that the Stanford-Binet scale too closely reflected the idea of one general intelligence.

Because of this, Wechsler created the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) in 1955, with the most up-to-date version being the WAIS-IV (Cherry, 2020).

The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), developed by David Wechsler, is an IQ test designed to measure intelligence and cognitive ability in children between the ages of 6 and 16. It is currently in its fourth edition (WISC-V) released in 2014 by Pearson.

mental ability problem solving

Above Image: WISC-IV Sample Test Question

The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) is an IQ test designed to measure cognitive ability in adults and older adolescents, including

verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed.

The latest version of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV) was standardized on 2,200 healthy people between the ages of 16 and 90 years (Brooks et al., 2011).

The standardization of a test involves giving it to a large number of people of different ages to compute the average score on the test at each age level.

The overall IQ score combines the test takers’ performance in all four categories (Cherry, 2020). And rather than calculating this number based on mental and chronological age, the WAIS compares the individual’s score to the average score at that level, as calculated by the standardization process.

The Flynn Effect

It is important to regularly standardize an intelligence test because the overall level of intelligence in a population may change over time.

This phenomenon is known as the Flynn effect (named after its discoverer, New Zealand researcher James Flynn) which refers to the observation that scores on intelligence tests worldwide increase from decade to decade (Flynn, 1984).

Aptitude vs. Achievement Tests

Other tests, such as aptitude and achievement tests, are designed to measure intellectual capability. Achievement tests measure what content a student has already learned (such as a unit test in history or a final math exam), whereas an aptitude test measures a student’s potential or ability to learn (Anastasi, 1984).

Although this may sound similar to an IQ test, aptitude tests typically measure abilities in very specific areas.

Criticism of Intelligence Testing

Criticisms have ranged from the claim that IQ tests are biased in favor of white, middle-class people. Negative stereotypes about a person’s ethnicity, gender, or age may cause the person to suffer stereotype threat, a burden of doubt about his or her own abilities, which can create anxiety that result in lower scores.

Reliability and Construct Validity

Although you may be wondering if you take an intelligence test multiple times will you improve your score and whether these tests even measure intelligence in the first place, research provides reassurance that these tests are both very reliable and have high construct validity.

Reliability simply means that they are consistent over time. In other words, if you take a test at two different points in time, there will be very little change in performance or, in the case of intelligence tests, IQ scores.

Although this isn’t a perfect science, and your score might slightly fluctuate when taking the same test on different occasions or different tests at the same age, IQ tests demonstrate relatively high reliability (Tuma & Appelbaum, 1980).

Additionally, intelligence tests also reveal strong construct validity , meaning that they are, in fact, measuring intelligence rather than something else.

Researchers have spent hours on end developing, standardizing, and adapting these tests to best fit the current times. But that is also not to say that these tests are completely flawless.

Research documents errors with the specific scoring of tests and interpretation of the multiple scores (since typically, an individual will receive an overall IQ score accompanied by several category-specific scores), and some studies question the actual validity, reliability, and utility for individual clinical use of these tests (Canivez, 2013).

Additionally, intelligence scores are created to reflect different theories of intelligence, so the interpretations may be heavily based on the theory upon which the test is based (Canivez, 2013).

Cultural Specificity

There are issues with intelligence tests beyond looking at them in a vacuum.  These tests were created by Western psychologists who created such tools to measure euro-centric values.

However, it is important to recognize that the majority of the world’s population does not reside in Europe or North America, and as a result, the cultural specificity of these tests is crucial.

Different cultures hold different values and even have different perceptions of intelligence, so is it fair to have one universal marker of this increasingly complex concept?

For example, a 1992 study found that Kenyan parents defined intelligence as the ability to do without being told what needed to be done around the homestead (Harkness et al., 1992), and, given the American and European emphasis on speed, some Ugandans define intelligent people as being slow in thought and action (Wober, 1974).

Together, these examples illustrate the flexibility of defining intelligence, making capturing this concept in a single test, let alone a single number even more challenging.  And even within the U.S., do perceptions of intelligence differ?

An example is in San Jose, California, where Latino, Asian, and Anglo parents had varying definitions of intelligence.  The teachers’ understanding of intelligence was more similar to that of the Asian and Anglo communities, and this similarity predicted the child’s performance in school (Okagaki & Sternberg, 1993).

That is, students whose families had more similar understandings of intelligence were doing better in the classroom.

Intelligence takes many forms, ranging from country to country and culture to culture.  Although IQ tests might have high reliability and validity, understanding the role of culture is as, if not more, important in forming the bigger picture of an individual’s intelligence.

IQ tests may accurately measure academic intelligence, but more research must be done to discern whether they truly measure practical intelligence or even just general intelligence in all cultures.

Social and Environmental Factors

Another important part of the puzzle to consider is the social and environmental context in which an individual lives and the IQ test-related biases that develop as a result.

These might help explain why some individuals have lower scores than others. For example, the threat of social exclusion can greatly decrease the expression of intelligence.

A 2002 study gave participants an IQ test and a personality inventory, and some were randomly chosen to receive feedback from the inventory indicating that they were “the sort of people who would end up alone in life” (Baumeister et al., 2002).

After a second test, those who were told they would be loveless and friendless in the future answered significantly fewer questions than they did on the earlier test.

These findings can translate into the real world where not only the threat of social exclusion can decrease the expression of intelligence but also a perceived threat to physical safety.

In other words, a child’s poor academic performance can be attributed to the disadvantaged, potentially unsafe communities in which they grow up.

Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threat is a phenomenon in which people feel at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group. Negative stereotypes can also create anxiety that results in lower scores.

In one study, Black and White college students were given part of the verbal section from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), but in the stereotype threat condition, they told students the test diagnosed intellectual ability, thus potentially making the stereotype that Blacks are less intelligent than Whites salient.

The results of this study revealed that in the stereotype threat condition, Blacks performed worse than Whites, but in the no stereotype threat condition, Blacks and Whites performed equally well (Steele & Aronson, 1995).

And even just recording your race can also result in worsened performance. Stereotype threat is a real threat and can be detrimental to an individual’s performance on these tests.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Stereotype threat is closely related to the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy in which an individual’s expectations about another person can result in the other person acting in ways that conform to that very expectation.

In one experiment, students in a California elementary school were given an IQ test, after which their teachers were given the names of students who would become “intellectual bloomers” that year based on the results of the test (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968).

At the end of the study, the students were tested again with the same IQ test, and those labeled as “intellectual bloomers” significantly increased their scores.

This illustrates that teachers may subconsciously behave in ways that encourage the success of certain students, thus influencing their achievement (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968), and provides another example of small variables that can play a role in an individual’s intelligence score and the development of their intelligence.

This is all to say that it is important to consider the less visible factors that play a role in determining someone’s intelligence. While an IQ score has many benefits in measuring intelligence, it is critical to consider that just because someone has a lower score does not necessarily mean they are lower in intelligence.

There are many factors that can worsen performance on these tests, and the tests themselves might not even be accurately measuring the very concept they are intended to.

Extremes of Intelligence

IQ scores are generally normally distributed (Moore et al., 2013). That is, roughly 95% of the population has IQ scores between 70 and 130. But what about the other 5%?

Individuals who fall outside this range represent the extremes of intelligence.

Those who have an IQ above 130 are considered to be gifted (Lally & French, 2018), such as Christopher Langan, an American horse rancher, who has an IQ score around 200 (Gladwell, 2008).

Those individuals who have scores below 70 do so because of an intellectual disability marked by substantial developmental delays, including motor, cognitive, and speech delays (De Light, 2012).

Some of the time, these disabilities are the product of genetic mutations.

Down syndrome, for example, resulting from extra genetic material from or a complete extra copy of the 21st chromosome, is a common genetic cause of an intellectual disability (Breslin, 2014). As such, many individuals with Down Syndrome have below-average IQ scores (Breslin, 2014).

Savant syndrome is another example of extreme intelligence. Despite having significant mental disabilities, these individuals demonstrate certain abilities in some fields that are far above average, such as incredible memorization, rapid mathematical or calendar calculation ability, or advanced musical talent (Treffert, 2009).

The fact that these individuals who may be lacking in certain areas such as social interaction and communication make up for it in other remarkable areas further illustrates the complexity of intelligence and what this concept means today, as well as how we must consider all individuals when determining how to perceive, measure, and recognize intelligence in our society.

Intelligence Today

Today, intelligence is generally understood as the ability to understand and adapt to the environment by using inherited abilities and learned knowledge.

Many new intelligence tests have arisen, such as the University of California Matrix Reasoning Task (Pahor et al., 2019), that can be taken online and in very little time, and new methods of scoring these tests have been developed too (Sansone et al., 2014).

Admission into university and graduate schools relies on specific aptitude and achievement tests, such as the SAT, ACT, and the LSAT – these tests have become a huge part of our lives.

Humans are incredibly intelligent beings and rely on our intellectual abilities daily. Although intelligence can be defined and measured in countless ways, our overall intelligence as a species makes us incredibly unique and has allowed us to thrive for generations on end.

Anastasi, A. (1984). 7. Aptitude and Achievement Tests: The Curious Case of the Indestructible Strawperson.

Baumeister, R. F., Twenge, J. M., & Nuss, C. K. (2002). Effects of social exclusion on cognitive processes: anticipated aloneness reduces intelligent thought . Journal of personality and social psychology, 83 (4), 817.

Binet, A., Simon, T., & Simon, T. (1912). A method of measuring the development of the intelligence of young children . Chicago medical book Company.

Breslin, J., Spanò, G., Bootzin, R., Anand, P., Nadel, L., & Edgin, J. (2014). Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and cognition in Down syndrome . Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 56 (7), 657-664.

Brooks, B. L., Holdnack, J. A., & Iverson, G. L. (2011). Advanced clinical interpretation of the WAIS-IV and WMS-IV: Prevalence of low scores varies by level of intelligence and years of education . Assessment, 18 (2), 156-167.

Canivez, G. L. (2013). Psychometric versus actuarial interpretation of intelligence and related aptitude batteries.

Cattell, R. B. (1963). Theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence: A critical experiment. Journal of educational psychology, 54 (1), 1.

Cherry, K. (2020). Why Alfred Binet Developed IQ Testing for Students. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/history-of-intelligence-testing-2795581

Crowther-Heyck, H. (2005). Herbert  A. Simon: The bounds of reason in modern America . JHU Press.

De Ligt, J., Willemsen, M. H., Van Bon, B. W., Kleefstra, T., Yntema, H. G., Kroes, T., … & del Rosario, M. (2012). Diagnostic exome sequencing in persons with severe intellectual disability . New England Journal of Medicine, 367 (20), 1921-1929.

Flynn, J. R. (1984). The mean IQ of Americans: Massive gains 1932 to 1978. Psychological Bulletin, 95 (1), 29.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind . New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1987). The theory of multiple intelligence . Annals Of Dyslexia , 37, 19-35

Gignac, G. E., & Watkins, M. W. (2013). Bifactor modeling and the estimation of model-based reliability in the WAIS-IV . Multivariate Behavioral Research, 48 (5), 639-662.

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. Little, Brown. Harkness, S., Super, C., & Keefer, C. (1992). Culture and ethnicity: In M. Levine, W. Carey & A. Crocker (Eds.), Developmental-behavioral pediatrics (pp. 103-108).

Horn, J. L., & Cattell, R. B. (1966). Refinement and test of the theory of fluid and crystallized general intelligences. Journal of Educational Psychology, 57 , 253-270.

Jensen, A. R. (1982). Reaction time and psychometric g. In A model for intelligence (pp. 93-132). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Heidelber Kalat, J.W. (2014). Introduction to Psychology , 10th Edition. Cengage Learning.

Lally, M., & French, S. V. (2018). Introduction  to Psychology . Canada: College of Lake County Foundation, 176-212.

Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D. R., & Salovey, P. (1999). Emotional intelligence meets traditional standards for an intelligence . Intelligence, 27(4), 267-298.

Moore, D. S., Notz, W. I, & Flinger, M. A. (2013). The basic practice of statistics (6th ed.). New York, NY: W. H. Freeman and Company.

Okagaki, L., & Sternberg, R. J. (1993). Parental beliefs and children’s school performance . Child Development, 64 (1), 36-56.

Pahor, A., Stavropoulos, T., Jaeggi, S. M., & Seitz, A. R. (2019). Validation of a matrix reasoning task for mobile devices. Behavior Research Methods, 51 (5), 2256-2267.

Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom . The urban review, 3 (1), 16-20.

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence . Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9 (3), 185-211.

Sansone, S. M., Schneider, A., Bickel, E., Berry-Kravis, E., Prescott, C., & Hessl, D. (2014). Improving IQ measurement in intellectual disabilities using true deviation from population norms. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 6 (1), 16.

Spearmen, C. (1904). General intelligence objectively determined and measured. American Journal of Psychology, 15 , 107-197.

Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69 , 797-811.

Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence . CUP Archive.

Sternberg, R. J. (1997). The concept of intelligence and its role in lifelong learning and success . American psychologist, 52 (10), 1030.

Sternberg, R. J. (2003). Contemporary theories of intelligence. Handbook of psychology , 21-45.

Treffert, D. A. (2009). The savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. A synopsis: past, present, future . Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364 (1522), 1351-1357.

Thomson, G. (1947). Charles Spearman, 1863-1945.

Tuma, J. M., & Appelbaum, A. S. (1980). Reliability and practice effects of WISC-R IQ estimates in a normal population . Educational and Psychological Measurement, 40 (3), 671-678.

Wober, J. M. (1971). Towards an understanding of the Kiganda concept of intelligence. Social Psychology Section, Department of Sociology, Makerere University.

mental ability problem solving

Problem solving

Worrying is a natural response to life's problems. But when it takes over and we can start to feel overwhelmed, it can really help to take a step back and break things down.

Learning new ways to work through your problems can make them feel more manageable, and improve your mental and physical wellbeing.

Video: Problem solving

The tips in this video can help you to find strategies and solutions for tackling the problems that can be solved, and learning how to manage and cope with those that cannot.

Steps and strategies to help you solve problems

1. focus on your values.

Feeling like you have lots of problems to solve in different areas of your life can make it difficult to know how and where to start.

A great way to focus is to write down a few areas of your life that are most important to you right now – for example, a relationship, finances or a long-term goal like studying or developing your career.

This can make it easier to prioritise which problems to tackle.

2. Tackle problems with possible solutions first

It's important to work out if your problem can be solved or is a "hypothetical worry" – things that are out of your control even though you might think about them often.

They might be based on something that happened in the past that cannot be changed or a worry about the future that starts with "what if…".

Ask yourself whether a problem can be dealt with by doing something practical. If the answer is no, it's a hypothetical worry.

Make a list of your problems, and work out which are solvable and which are hypothetical.

3. Set aside time to work through solvable problems

Set aside 5 or 10 minutes to think about possible solutions for one of your solvable problems.

Try to be as open-minded as you can, even if some ideas feel silly. Thinking broadly and creatively is often when the best solutions come to mind.

It may feel difficult at first but, over time, this approach can start to feel easier.

Once you have some ideas, think through or write down:

  • the pros and cons of each solution
  • whether it's likely to work
  • if you have everything you need to try it

4. Make a plan

The next step is to choose a solution you want to try and make a plan for putting it into action. Try to be specific:

  • What are you going to do?
  • Do you need the support of anybody else?
  • How much time do you need?
  • When will you do it?

5. Try 'worry time'

Not all of our problems can be solved right away, but it can be difficult to switch off and stop ourselves from dwelling on them.

Using the "worry time" technique to stick to a short set time – say 10 to 15 minutes in the evening – for worrying can make this much easier to manage.

You can learn more about the worry time technique on tackling your worries .

6. Find time to relax

Worrying about our problems can make it harder to relax, but there are lots of things you can try to help you clear your mind and feel calmer.

The most important thing is to find what works for you. It might be getting active, spending time on an existing hobby or trying a new one, or techniques like mindfulness, meditation or our progressive muscle relaxation exercise.

Video: Progressive muscle relaxation

This video will guide you through an exercise to help you recognise when you're starting to get tense, and relax your body and mind.

7. Review and reflect

Once you start trying new approaches to solving and managing problems, consider setting aside time to review what went well with your solutions or anything else you noticed.

Make notes of the problems you face and any strategies you use to overcome them. This can come in handy later on and also be a good reminder of what works best for you.

Ticking off on a checklist any problems you manage to solve is a great way to recognise your achievements and boost your confidence.

8. Give journaling a go

Sometimes getting our thoughts out of our head – and down onto paper, our phones or anything else – is a great way to stop our worries and "what ifs" from spiralling out of control.

Expressing ourselves in this way can also make it easier to spot when our thoughts are unhelpful and we may benefit from a more balanced outlook. Give it a go to see if this works for you.

More self-help CBT techniques you can try

Bouncing back from life's challenges.

Taking steps to stay on top of your mental wellbeing and build resilience can really help you deal with problems when times are tougher. Learn more, and see tips and techniques you can use.

mental ability problem solving

Tackling your worries

mental ability problem solving

Facing your fears

mental ability problem solving

Staying on top of things

Find more ideas to try in self-help CBT techniques

Morning Carpool

Morning Carpool

21 Mental Shifts to Boost Problem-Solving Skills and Become More Strategic

Posted: February 10, 2024 | Last updated: February 10, 2024

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Discover transformative mental shifts to supercharge your problem-solving skills. From embracing uncertainty to the power of daydreaming, prepare to change the way you tackle challenges forever!

image credit: g-stock-studio/shutterstock <p>While short power naps can be refreshing, long or irregular napping during the day can affect nighttime sleep. If you choose to nap, keep it early in the afternoon and under 20 minutes. This can help you get through the day without compromising your nightly sleep cycle.</p>

Embrace Uncertainty

Accept that not all answers are immediately clear. Uncertainty can be a powerful motivator rather than a source of stress. By embracing the unknown, we open ourselves up to a broader range of possibilities and solutions.

image credit: djile/Shutterstock <p><span>Understand when to avoid political discussions, especially if they lead to conflict. Set clear boundaries about what topics are off-limits in your interactions. This respects both parties’ comfort levels.</span></p>

Seek Diverse Perspectives

Look beyond your own experiences. Different perspectives can provide unique insights and spark innovative solutions. Engaging with people from various backgrounds allows you to see problems through a new lens and discover paths you might not have considered.

image credit: Standret/Shutterstock <p><span>No matter how hard you work, it never seems enough, and you aren’t receiving the positive feedback you crave. A pervasive sense of feeling undervalued and unacknowledged significantly contributes to burnout.</span></p>

Simplify the Complex

Break down big problems into smaller, manageable parts. When faced with a complex issue, deconstruct it to understand its fundamental components. This approach makes the problem less daunting and easier to tackle, leading to clearer, more effective solutions.

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Adopt a Growth Mindset

Believe in your ability to learn and grow. A growth mindset encourages resilience and the pursuit of knowledge. Challenges are just undiscovered opportunities with potential for personal and professional development.

<p>Social issues are increasingly influencing corporate actions, and companies are making bold moves to address these challenges. From championing gender equality to reducing plastic waste, businesses are not just talking the talk; they’re walking the walk. Discover what other innovative strategies are shaping our corporate landscapes.</p>

Question Assumptions

Challenge the status quo. The barriers to solving a problem are often based on outdated or incorrect assumptions. By questioning the basis of your thinking, you can uncover new paths and innovative solutions.

image credit: Gumbariya/Shutterstock <p>Companies are embracing fair trade practices. They’re sourcing ethically, ensuring fair labor conditions, and supporting sustainable supply chains. This commitment to fairness helps producers and builds a more ethical business model. Fair trade is about respect and responsibility.</p>

Think in Reverse

Start with the desired outcome and work backward. This reverse-engineering approach forces you to think differently and can reveal insights you might have missed when approaching the problem linearly.

image credit: polkadot_photo/Shutterstock <p><span>The creative spark that used to light up your work is gone. You struggle to come up with new ideas and solutions. Your thinking feels stale and uninspired. This lack of creativity is a symptom of mental exhaustion.</span></p>

Embrace Failure as a Teacher

Learn from mistakes and change your perspective. Nobody likes to fail, but each failure provides valuable lessons that can guide future decisions and strategies. Failure isn’t the end but the beginning of understanding.

image credit: ground picture/shutterstock <p>Certain herbal teas, such as chamomile or peppermint, can have a soothing effect and are a great pre-bedtime ritual. These teas are caffeine-free and can be part of your unwinding process. Enjoying a warm cup can be incredibly relaxing.</p>

Harness the Power of Daydreaming

Let your mind wander. Sometimes, the best ideas come when you’re not actively trying to solve a problem. Allowing your mind to drift can lead to creative breakthroughs and unexpected solutions.

image credit: jakub-zak/shutterstock <p><span>Forgive yourself and others to release resentment and anger. Holding onto grudges drains emotional energy and hinders growth. Understand that everyone makes mistakes, including you. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.</span></p>

Practice Empathy

Understand others’ perspectives and needs. By putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you can gain insights into the emotional and practical aspects of a problem, leading to more compassionate and effective solutions.

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Set Clear Goals

Define what success looks like. Clear goals provide direction and focus, making identifying the steps needed to solve a problem easier. They also help measure progress and keep you motivated.

image credit: ASTA-Concept/Shutterstock <p><span>Reduce the time spent in front of screens. Excessive screen time can lead to eye strain, poor sleep, and a sedentary lifestyle. Replace an hour of TV with a walk—a small change for a more active and engaged life.</span></p>

Stay Curious

Ask questions and seek knowledge. A curious mind is always looking for new information and ideas, which can lead to innovative problem-solving strategies. Curiosity is the engine of achievement.

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Use Analogies

Draw parallels from different areas. Analogies can help clarify complex problems by relating them to something more familiar. This can simplify the problem-solving process and spark creative solutions.

image credit: Stock-Asso/Shutterstock <p><span>Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now a key player in shaping foreign policy decisions. AI algorithms are used to analyze global trends, predict political shifts, and assist in crisis management. This integration of AI brings a new level of sophistication to diplomatic strategies, offering insights beyond human capabilities. As AI continues to evolve, it promises to redefine the landscape of international relations.</span></p>

Focus on the Process, Not Just the Outcome

Enjoy the journey of problem-solving. Focusing too much on the end result can lead to frustration and missed opportunities. By valuing the process, you can learn and adapt as you go, leading to more sustainable solutions.

image credit: Lee-Charlie/Shutterstock <p><span>Protect your investments with stop-loss orders, which automatically sell stocks at a predetermined level. This tool can limit your losses during sudden market drops. A stop-loss order is your safety net in the volatile market. It’s a strategy that offers peace of mind.</span></p>

Prioritize Effectively

Set deadlines for achieving your goals. Know what matters most. Not all aspects of a problem are equally important. By prioritizing the key factors, you can allocate your time and resources more effectively and achieve better results.

image credit: Dusan-Petkovic/Shutterstock <p><span>Working from home means missing out on company-provided perks like free coffee or gym memberships. To compensate, look for local deals or create your own home gym. Consider the value of these perks and find alternative ways to incorporate them into your life. Being creative can help maintain your lifestyle without breaking the bank.</span></p>

Build Resilience

Give yourself time to recover, then bounce back from setbacks. Resilience is crucial for problem-solving, as it allows you to keep going despite challenges and failures. Resilience turns problems into opportunities.

image credit: Evgeny-Atamanenko/Shutterstock <p><span>Whole grains are your friends. Foods like brown rice, barley, and whole wheat provide essential nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, and iron. Not only do they help maintain a healthy gut, but they also keep you fuller for longer. Try incorporating them into your meals in creative ways, like using quinoa in a salad or barley in a hearty soup.</span></p>

Cultivate Patience

Give solutions time to unfold. Sometimes, the best solutions emerge over time, and immediate answers aren’t always the best. Patience allows you to thoroughly explore options and make more considered decisions.

image credit: Fernanda_Reyes/Shutterstock <p><span>Overtraining isn’t just a physical issue; it can take a toll on your mental health as well. Engage in activities that relax and rejuvenate your mind, such as meditation, reading, or spending time in nature. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as physical recovery.</span></p>

Practice Reflection

Don’t overlook the power of self-reflection. Take time to think about what you’ve learned. Reflecting on your experiences and the outcomes of your problem-solving efforts can provide valuable insights and improve future strategies.

image credit: insta_photos/Shutterstock <p><span>Borrowing money to invest can amplify your gains, known as leveraging. If your investments grow, you can repay the loan and keep the surplus as a profit. However, if your investments tank, you’re left with debt and no means to cover it. “Using debt to invest can be like playing financial Russian roulette,” warns a financial blogger.</span></p>

Encourage Collaboration

Work with others to find solutions and share goals. Collaborating with a team can bring in a range of skills and perspectives that enhance the problem-solving process and lead to more effective solutions.

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Visualize Success

Imagine the desired outcome. Visualization can be a powerful motivator to enhance your performance and guide your actions toward achieving your goals. Focusing on the end result in your mind’s eye can make it a reality.

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Adapt and Evolve

Be willing to change your approach. The most effective problem-solvers are flexible and open to new methods and ideas. Adapting your strategy in response to new information or challenges can lead to better solutions.

<p><span>Fitness after 50 can be fun and challenging. Discover innovative programs and learn how fitness after 50 can be a thrilling adventure of rejuvenation and discovery! No matter your age, you can transform your body.</span></p>

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Stay optimistic and focused. A positive outlook can keep you motivated and open to new ideas. An optimistic mindset can also make the problem-solving process more enjoyable and less daunting.

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 Verbal Reasoning - Mental Ability Questions

Arrange the words given below in a meaningful sequence.

1.Presentation  2.Recommendation  3. Arrival  4.Discussion  5.Introduction

The correct order is :

Arrival   Introduction   Presentation   Discussion  Recommendation

      3                    5                        1                    4                       2  

View Answer Report Error Discuss Filed Under: Logical Sequence of Words

C L R T B Q S M A P D I  N F J K G Y X

Four of the following  five are alike in a certain way and so form group. Which is the one that does not belong to the group?

1. LBT     2.IJF    3. PID    4. BMS

L → + 3 B → - 1 T

  I → + 3 J → - 1 F

  P → + 2 I → - 1 D

  B → + 3 → - 1 S

  Therefore, PID is not in the form of other patterns.

View Answer Report Error Discuss Filed Under: Alphabet Test Exam Prep: AIEEE , Bank Exams , CAT Job Role: Analyst , Bank Clerk , Bank PO

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z .

Which letter in this alphabet is the eighth letter to the right of the letter and  which is tenth letter to the left of the last but one letter of the alphabet?

In the given alphabet, last but one letter of alphabet is Y.

10th letter to the left of Y is O

8th letter to the right of O is W

View Answer Report Error Discuss Filed Under: Alphabet Test

In a certain code language COMPUTER is written as RFUVQNPC. How will MEDICINE be written in that code language?

- There are 8 letters in the word.

- The coded word can be obtained by taking the immediately following letters of word, expect the first and the last letters of the given word but in the reverse order. That means, in the coded form the first and the last letters have been interchanged while the remaining letters are coded by taking their immediate next letters in the reverse order.

View Answer Report Error Discuss Filed Under: Coding and Decoding

How many pairs of letters are there in the word " CASTRAPHONE" which have as many letters between them in the word as in the alphabet?

Looking into the alphabets there are six such pairs namely ON, HONE, ST, TRAPHO, TRAPHON, RAP.

1. ON  - NO




6. RAP - PQR

A is B's sister. C is B's mother. D is C's father. E is D's mother. Then, how is A related to D?

A is the sister of B and B is the daughter of C.

So, A is the daughter of C. Also, D is the father of C.

So, A is the granddaughter of D. 

View Answer Report Error Discuss Filed Under: Blood Relations

Find the missing number in the series?

4, 18, ?, 100, 180, 294, 448

Take a Look at this series :

2 3  -  2 2  =  8 - 4 = 4  

3 3  -  3 2  = 27 - 9 = 18 

4 3  -  4 2  = 64 - 16 = 48  

5 3  -  5 2  = 125 - 25 = 100  

6 3  -  6 2  = 216 - 36 = 180 

7 3  -  7 2  = 343 - 49 = 294 

8 3  -  8 2  = 512 - 64 = 448

View Answer Report Error Discuss Filed Under: Number Series

Find the wrong number in the series.

1, 2, 6, 15, 31, 56, 91

The difference of the two consecutive numbers are 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 35. 

This is clearly ,  + 1 2 ,   + 2 2 ,   + 3 2 ,   + 4 2 ,   + 5 2 , + 6 2  

Here 35 is wrong, So our wrong number is 91

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Why Is Problem-solving an Important Skill to Address Mental Health?

Problems that we cannot solve take a toll on our mental well-being . When we can’t get rid of a problem, it stresses us out. We lose sleep. We couldn’t even eat properly. That’s when our physical and mental health starts to decline . We feel stressed by the simplest of things. A small problem can lead to a bigger problem when left unsolved. We end up feeling depressed and hopeless because there seems to be no way out of the problem.

But when you learn how to solve your problems efficiently, you can also remove the stressors in your life. You will begin to learn how to cope with these problems, and you will soon find out that it’s easier to face them than run away from them. After all, no matter what you do, your problems are going to hound you.

What if the problems are not easily fixed?

There are problems, of course, that will be hard to address. Marriage problems are on the top of that list. Whenever you deal with issues in your personal relationship, you sometimes feel like there is no way out. No matter where you look, there will be consequences from your actions. There is, however, one particular step that you need to take when the matters get too serious—you have to call an  attorney from a family law firm . The attorney will guide you through the process of solving your marital problems.

Sometimes, you don’t even have to deal with the problem on your own. It’s through legal means. While the solution is complicated and expensive, what’s important is there is a way to solve the issue legally. Even problems in your workplace can be solved through legal means, so make sure you’re aware of your rights at work and at home.

Better functioning, improved productivity

When you can deal with the challenges that you face in your personal and professional life, you will be more productive at work. Stress will not weigh you down. You will also be better at dealing with your personal relationships when you have fewer problems and issues to think about. A problem-free life? Is that possible? Not really possible, but problems can be better managed.

Closer relationships with family, friends, and co-workers

People who cannot deal with problems often find themselves isolated from their family, friends, and co-workers. They become moody because of the stress of running away from their problems. But you can enjoy your relationships better when you have the skills to solve your problems, from small ones to complicated ones. You will become a better version of yourself, someone who can forge lasting relations with other people, even with your co-workers.

Higher Self-esteem

When you are confident with your ability to handle your problems, that will translate into everything you do. You will be more confident at work and in your personal relationships. You’re going to be more outgoing, too. This will improve not only your self-esteem but your social skills, too. You will be confident among your peers. That will create a positive impact on your mental health because your problem-solving skills will arm you with the tools you need to socialize, build camaraderie in the workplace, and improve your well-being.

Higher Life Satisfaction

Aren’t you more satisfied with life when you are free from worries? People tend to wallow in their sorrow when they don’t have any idea how to deal with their problems. However, once you have a “formula” of how to manage the issues that you face at work and home, then you will also have a better understanding of what makes you happy. Although you cannot always avoid situations that might lead to even bigger problems (since that is no way to live your life), you can arm yourself with the skills you need to be happier and more fulfilled.

Problems create stress in your life when you have no idea how to deal with them. Most people wouldn’t know how to solve or even face their problems. That’s normal because who really has a Ph.D. in problem-solving? But as you go through life and face challenges left and right, you need to find a “formula” that works for you. What is it that works for you? Do you need time to think, or are you the kind of person who acts immediately? Do you find it more satisfying when you face a problem head-on or when you take time off at first before dealing with it?

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Social Problem Solving Ability Predicts Mental Health Among Undergraduate Students

Mansour ranjbar.

Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences, Sarri Mazandaran Province, Iran

Ali Asghar Bayani

1 Department of Psychology, Azadshahr Branch, Islamic Azad Universty, Azadshahr, Iran


The main objective of this study was predicting student's mental health using social problem solving- ability.

In this correlational. descriptive study, 369 (208 female and 161 male) from, Mazandaran University of Medical Science were selected through stratified random sampling method. In order to collect the data, the social problem solving inventory-revised and general health questionnaire were used. Data were analyzed through SPSS-19, Pearson's correlation, t test, and stepwise regression analysis.

Data analysis showed significant relationship between social problem solving ability and mental health ( P < 0.01). Social problem solving ability was significantly associated with the somatic symptoms, anxiety and insomnia, social dysfunction and severe depression ( P < 0.01).


The results of our study demonstrated that there is a significant correlation between social problem solving ability and mental health.


The definition and measurement of health is conceptually problematic and evolving.[ 1 ] The meaning of health has dramatically changed during the last 150 years.[ 2 ] According to World Health Organization (WHO), health is defined as the state of physical, mental, and social well-being and does not refer solely to the absence of a disease.[ 3 ]

With increasing understanding of health concept, the importance of mental health becomes more apparent[ 4 ] because health provides effective functionality of individuals, families, and society.[ 5 ] In order to enhance health, many different approaches such as biologic, behavior-therapy, psychodynamics, and many models such as medical, empowerment, behavioral change, educational, and social change have been introduced.[ 6 ] One recent concept considered effective in reduction of the psychological disorders is the social problem- solving ability.

Social problem solving refers to the process of problem solving within real world.[ 7 ] In this definition the word “social” is indicative of factors affecting coping behaviors of a person in the social environment.[ 8 ] Most of the researches about social problem- solving are influenced by the social problem solving model. The problem solving therapy (PST) approach, based on this model,[ 9 ] has been utilized as an intervention modality in depression, suicide,[ 10 ] reduction of problems related to mental and physical health,[ 11 ] and anxiety.[ 12 ] The social inefficiency is common among people with personality disorders, and the primary goal of the PST approach is to enhance social sufficiency.[ 13 ]

The impact of social problem solving on depression, anxiety and personality disorders has been reported in numerous studies by Marx et al ., Haago et al ., Kant et al ., Becker-Weidman et al ., and Bray et al .[ 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 ] According to diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-IV), evaluation of personality disorders requires theoretical models for guiding diagnosis and treatment. Based on this definition, McMurran et al ., evaluated the relation between personality disorders and social problem solving and acknowledged the social problem solving as the theoretical basis of their research.[ 19 ]

Several studies have implicated the prevalence of mental disorders and high- risk behavior among university students.[ 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 ] This is partly because of rapid development of physical, psychological, and social functions in the adolescence in comparison to childhood, which prone them to emotional disturbances.[ 24 ] In addition to outcomes related to growth, these individuals are afflicted by educational concerns, living apart from family, college expenditures, and the change of living environment; all of these are important parameters in the makeup of behavioral dysfunctions.[ 25 ]

Planning efficient models in prevention and treatment of psychological disorders in adolescents and young adults is of utmost value. Based on this essentiality, we conducted a research in order to evaluate the role of social problem- solving ability in the prediction of undergraduate mental health.


This is a descriptive- correlational study. We randomly selected 369 undergraduate students (161 male, 208 female) from the Mazandaran University Medical Science, based on stratified randomized sampling. The mean age of the examinees was 22 years, of which 107 were married and 262 were single. They were selected from students of human studies, agriculture, engineering, and arts and had freely agreed to participate.


The instruments for data collection are the following:

Social problem-solving inventory-revised

This is a 52-item, self-report questionnaire devised according to D’Zurilla et al .[ 26 ] The subscales of SPSI-R include: Positive problem orientation (PPO), negative problem orientation (NPO), rational problem solving (RPS), impulsivity/carelessness style (ICS), and avoidance style (AS).[ 27 ] Siu and Shek reported Cronbach coefficient alphas of SPSI-R ranged from 0.64 (PPO) to 0.98 (AS).[ 28 ]

General health questionnaire

The original general health questionnaire was designed by Goldberg in 1972.[ 29 ] We used GHQ-28 comprising of 4 subscale covering the physical symptoms, anxiety and insomnia, social functioning, and depression. Test-retest reliability coefficient of Farsi version of GHQ was 0.85.[ 30 ]

We used SPSS 19 to analyze data using Pierson's correlation coefficient, independent t -test, and stepwise regression analysis.

Mean and standard deviation for social problem solving and general health scores are presented in Table 1 . The correlation of the social problem solving abilities and its sub- scale with the general health questionnaire are presented in Table 2 . There is significant correlation between general health and the social problem solving abilities ( P < 0.01). The social problem solving abilities were significantly correlated with the physical symptoms, anxiety and insomnia, social dysfunction, and depression ( P < 0.01).

Mean and standard deviations of scales by sex

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is IJPVM-4-1337-g001.jpg

Significant Pearson correlation matrixes for total scores

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Object name is IJPVM-4-1337-g002.jpg

Stepwise multiple regression analysis for the entire sample was used to determine the combination of variables that best predicts general mental health [ Table 3 ]. The variance of negative problem orientation accounted for 21.5% of the variance of general health score. Adding the impulsivity/carelessness style to this analysis, raised the value to 24.5%. These two variables were thus negatively correlated with the general health.

Summary of stepwise regression analysis for predicting students’ mental health

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Object name is IJPVM-4-1337-g003.jpg

Studies performed about the status of mental health in college students imply mental disorders being prevalent.[ 31 ] These disorders lead to devastating individual and social outcomes and require preventive and treatment approaches. This study was done with the aim of evaluating the value of parameters related to social problem solving capabilities in the prediction of students’ mental health.

The results of our study demonstrate that there is a significant correlation between social problem- solving ability and mental health. Social problem- solving ability are significantly related to physical symptoms, anxiety and insomnia, social dysfunction, and depression. This is in concert with the results of the Nezu and Nezu and Ronan findings.[ 32 , 33 ] Marx et al .,[ 14 ] Haaga et al .,[ 15 ] D’Zurill et al .,[ 34 ] Baker and Williams[ 35 ] and Becker-Weidman et al .,[ 17 ] have also reported similar results.

Our study showed that almost 21.5% of the variance in general health variable may be related to predictive variable of negative problem orientation and that it is increased to 24.5% if the impulsivity/carelessness style is added. This finding is in agreement with the results of Nezu[ 12 ] and D’Zurilla et al .[ 34 ]

The results of our study demonstrate that social problem solving ability are significantly correlated with the mental health and may predict it. We recommend that colleges prepare plans in order to enhance the social problem solving skills among their population.

Our study is limited by its conduct over a single group of students. We recommend a larger multicenter study with various age groups and questionnaires.

Source of Support: Nil

Conflict of Interest: None declared.


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