Problem-solving set is the ability to focus on one successful solution and to screen out other (non) successful solutions. One problem-solving set study by Ransopher and Thompson (1991) showed no main effect or marked difference of responses with age. However, these results are not surprising because the research design perhaps facilitated responses. Two outcomes were thought possible for this particular study. The inhibition-deficit view (Hasher and Zachs, 1988) suggests that older people may be less susceptible to the effects of problem-solving set because they would be less likely to be focused on just one solution set. Dempster (1992) suggests that these inhibitory processes are associated with the frontal lobes, which function less effectively as people age. Alternatively, the other possible hypothesis dealt with perseveration: the abnormal repetition of a specific behavior (Stuss and Benson, 1984). Perseverative characteristics seen in frontal lobe damaged patients (Delis, Squire, Bihrle, and Massman, 1992) may indicate that the lessened activity of the frontal lobes with age would cause the older people to be more susceptible to problem-solving set, since they would not be able to get out of the initial problem-solving set solutions to solve new problems. This study attempted to determine which hypothesis is more accurate by inducing set with anagrams or scrambled words. Twenty-five undergraduates and 29 older people (over the age of 55) were tested on a completely randomized list of 150 anagrams, in terms of anagram location and letter order, that were in blocks of 6, 9, 12, and 15. Target anagrams that required a different solution were presented after each block, and the mean latency was measured for both block and target anagrams. Main effects of group on anagram reaction times were found, but . significant interactions were not found using two two-way ANOVAs.
Blair '95, Catherine J., "A Possible Age-Related Neurological Mechanism in the Formation of Problem-Solving Set" (1995). Honors Projects. Paper 104.