In the process of problem-solving, a limiting of possible solutions often occurs which causes subjects to prematurely narrow their problem-solving options. This tendency is called problem-solving set. It is possible that there is an underlying neurological mechanism which regulates this process. It has been shown that the frontal lobes play a role in the inhibition of irrelevant information, suggesting that they may be involved in the formation of set. Because the frontal lobes are suspected to degenerate somewhat with age, the elderly may have less of a tendency towards problem-solving set than young adults. In the current study, set was induced trough the use of anagrams (tasks which require the subject to unscramble a scrambled word to produce a common word). Young adults were compared to elderly adults. Set-forming anagrams were all solvable by the same strategy, and a "target" anagram (which appeared after the set-forming anagrams) was solvable by a different strategy. The number of set-forming anagrams given was varied, and problem-solving set was measured by comparing latencies between set-forming anagrams and the target anagram. It was found that anagrams are effective at inducing problem-solving set, that the intensity of problem-solving set increases with set size, and that there may indeed be a neurological explanation for age-related differences in the formation of problem-solving set.
Meinz '94, Elizabeth J., "The Inhibition-Deficit Hypothesis: A Possible Neurological Mechanism for Age-Related Changes in the Formation of Problem-Solving Set" (1994). Honors Projects. 68.