Inspiration Functional Fixedness as a Cognitive Bias By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry Facebook Twitter Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. Learn about our editorial process Updated on June 23, 2020 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Sean Blackburn Fact checked by Sean Blackburn LinkedIn Sean is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology and field research. Learn about our editorial process Print Yagi Studio / Digital Vision / Getty Images Functional fixedness is a type of cognitive bias that involves a tendency to see objects as only working in a particular way. For example, you might view a thumbtack as something that can only be used to hold paper to a corkboard. But what other uses might the item have? In many cases, functional fixedness can prevent people from seeing the full range of uses for an object. It can also impair our ability to think of novel solutions to problems. How Functional Fixedness Influences Problem-Solving Imagine that you need to drive a nail into a wall so you can hang a framed photo. Unable to find a hammer, you spend a significant amount of time searching your house to find the missing tool. A friend comes over and suggests using a metal wrench instead to pound the nail into the wall. Why didn't you think of using the metal wrench? Psychologists suggest that something known as functional fixedness often prevents us from thinking of alternative solutions to problems and different uses for objects. A Classic Example Here's one well-known example of functional fixedness at work: You have two candles, numerous thumbtacks, and a box of matches. Using only these items, try to figure out how to mount the candles to a wall. How would you accomplish this? Many people might immediately start trying to use the thumbtacks to affix the candles to the wall. Due to functional fixedness, you might think of only one way to directly use the thumbtacks. There is another solution, however. Using the matches, melt the bottom part of each candle and then use the hot wax to stick the candle to the matchbox. Once the candles are attached to the box, use the thumbtacks to stick the box to the wall. Functional fixedness is just one type of mental obstacle that can make problem-solving more difficult. Functional fixedness isn't always a bad thing. In many cases, it can act as a mental shortcut allowing you to quickly and efficiently determine a practical use for an object. For example, imagine that someone has asked you to open a toolbox and find a tool that can be used to loosen a screw. It would take a tremendous amount of time if you had to analyze every item in the box to determine how effective it might be at performing the task. Instead, you are able to quickly grab a screwdriver, the most obvious item for loosening a screw. 2 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Psychological Association. APA Dictionary of Psychology: functional fixedness. 2020. Munoz-Rubke F, Olson D, Will R, James KH. Functional fixedness in tool use: Learning modality, limitations and individual differences. Acta Psychol (Amst). 2018;190:11-26. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2018.06.006 By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.