Date of Graduation
Within the everyday problem-solving literature, a small number of studies have examined effectiveness as a problem-solving outcome measure. Effectiveness is a method of determining the quality of strategies used to solve ill-defined problems. Knowing the effectiveness of a problem-solving strategy can help determine whether an age differences in the use of that strategy also indicates better everyday outcomes for one age group. Of the few studies that have examined age differences in effective problem solving, none have systematically assessed the dimensions that make some strategies effective and others ineffective for various problem situations. In addition, a variety of methodological considerations in determining problem-solving effectiveness have yet to be addressed within problem-solving research, leaving many questions about the validity of extant findings unanswered. Finally, it is not clear why age differences in effectiveness may vary across specific problem domains. The present study adapted Cornelius and Caspi's (1987) Everyday Problem Solving Inventory (EPSI) in order to examine problem-solving strategy endorsements and problem-solving effectiveness for younger and older adults. The EPSI consisted of problem-solving vignettes occurring within six problem domains (i.e., conflicts with friends, consumer issues, family conflicts, home management, information use, and work-related issues). The revised EPSI (REPSI) used in the present study included two additional everyday domains that are relevant for both younger and older adults: health care issues and technology issues. Participants were 69 younger and 61 older adults who rated the likelihood that they would use (strategy endorsement) each of four problem-specific strategies to solve four problem situations for each domain; the strategies were classified as avoidant thinking and denial (AD), cognitive problem analysis (CA), passive-dependent behavior (PD), and problem-focused action (PF). Participants and experts assessed strategy quality on three dimensions: the degree to which the strategy solved the problem, prevented or minimized future occurrences of the problem, and managed emotional reactions to the problem. Self and expert ratings were each combined with participants' endorsements of the strategy types in order to determine effectiveness. For each dependent variable, a 2 (Age) x 4 (Strategy) x 8 (Problem Domain) ANOVA was performed to examine group differences. The three-way interaction was significant within each analysis: strategy endorsement ratings, F(21, 2583) = 3.79, p < .001, eta p2 = .03; expert-based effectiveness scores, F(21, 2583) = 2.28, p = .001, eta p2 = .02; and self-based effectiveness scores, F(21, 2520) = 1.74, p < .05, eta p2 = .01. Follow-up tests revealed that age differences in strategy endorsements and effectiveness varied according to the domain of the problem. For solving information use problems, younger adults endorsed AD higher than older adults, but older adults endorsed AD higher than younger adults for consumer, work, and family problems. Younger adults endorsed CA higher than older adults for solving technology and information use problems. Younger adults endorsed PD higher than older adults for consumer, information use, health care, and technology problems. Younger adults also endorsed PF higher than older adults for solving home and family problems, but older adults endorsed PF higher than younger adults for solving consumer problems. Expert-based effectiveness scores indicated that younger adults had higher effectiveness scores than older adults for solving friend and information problems. Younger adults also had higher AD effectiveness for solving family problems than did older adults. However, self-based effectiveness scores indicated that older adults had higher effectiveness scores for solving work and technology problems than younger adults. Potential mediators of age differences in problem-solving effectiveness were assessed within the various domains. Participants' accumulated prior success with solving friend problems mediated age differences in expert-based effectiveness for solving friend problems (Sobel test statistic = -2.18, SE = .01). Taken together, these findings suggest that everyday problem-solving effectiveness is highly contextual. Problem domain effects were consistently larger than strategy effects, which were generally larger than age effects. Prior investigations of problem-solving effectiveness may have simplified our understanding of the nature of age differences in effective problem solving across problem domains.
McFall, Joseph P., "Effectiveness of strategies for solving everyday problems during early and later adulthood: A reexamination of the Everyday Problem Solving Inventory" (2010). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 4631.