The effect of metaphorical and diagrammatic presentations of problem structure upon problem-solving performance

James Patrick McGee, Fordham University


The effects upon problem solving performance of metaphorical and diagrammatic presentations of problem structure were experimentally studied for two problem structures which differed in complexity. Scores on a logical reasoning test were collected as a hypothesized covariate. Each of 120 subjects was administered one of eight presentations formed by the combination of the presence or absence of a metaphorical and of a diagrammatic description of a simple and of a complex problem structure. Each subject was then administered three sets of problems based upon the structure presented, and was subsequently administered the logical reasoning test and an interview. Measures of problem solving performance were: time to solution, total number of moves made, number of allowable moves made, number of unallowable moves made, and number of excess allowable moves made. The diagrammatic presentation was found to be significantly more effective than the non-diagrammatic presentation, for the complex problem structure. Milder support, also limited to the complex problem structure, was found for the effectiveness of the metaphorical presentation. The simple problem structure produced less time to solution and less errors, but more moves, than the complex structure. The metaphor and the diagram were found to interact negatively. Performance was found to be significantly better when the metaphor was presented alone than when the diagram was also presented. Results were mixed with respect to the influence of the metaphor upon the effectiveness of the diagram. The best performance resulted when the diagram was presented alone. The worst performance resulted from the absence of both metaphor and diagram. Scores on the logical reasoning test were found to correlate positively with problem solving performance. Findings are discussed with respect to the effectiveness of diagrammatic presentation, the aptness of metaphor and of metaphorical presentations, the difference between problem difficulty and problem complexity, the interaction of competing presentation methods, and the subjective reports of subjects.

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Recommended Citation

McGee, James Patrick, "The effect of metaphorical and diagrammatic presentations of problem structure upon problem-solving performance" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8809477.