Suling Cheng

Date of Graduation


Document Type



Researchers examining everyday problem solving in adulthood have focused mainly on age differences in performance (e.g., Denney & Palmer, 1981). Older adults are often found to be poor problem solvers in comparison to younger adults because older adults use problem-solving strategies that are defined as less effective by researchers. Furthermore, researchers have focused on problem solving as a solitary activity and not as a collaborative activity. In addition, the problem-solving tasks researchers have used to measure everyday problem solving often resemble traditional problem-solving tasks. Thus, attention should be directed toward comparing younger and older adults on ecologically valid collaborative problem-solving tasks to determine whether age differences are found. The present study examined individual and collaborative problem-solving performance in younger and older adults on an everyday problem-solving task, a cross country trip-planning task. Younger adults (24 females, 23 males; M age = 20.43, SD = 1.43) and older adults (24 males, 24 females; M age = 70.95, SD = 6.67) participated in the study. Performance on the task was measured by assessing the percentage of the four required tasks participants completed accurately (wedding, city, national park, Mt. Rushmore), and number of calculation errors, task-completion time, and route efficiency. Participants who collaborated with their friend on the everyday problem-solving task did not outperform participants who completed the task alone, Age differences favoring younger adults were found on three performance measures. Younger adults completed more of the complex requirements (city, Mt. Rushmore), and also completed the task faster than older adults. Significant differences between younger and older adults were not found on the other measures of performance such as the two aspects of the task most stressed in the task (attending the wedding and routing the most time efficient trip). Age differences also were not found in the choice component of the task (national park completion) or the number of calculation errors. Age, math, education, and problem-solving condition predicted aspects of task performance. The results of the study suggest that everyday problem solving may differ from traditional problem solving. Age differences that are often found on traditional problem-solving tasks may not be as apparent on everyday problem solving tasks.