The Einstellung Effect - Thinking Differently

27 January, 2020
The Einstellung effect is something to reflect upon because the human brain has a hard time thinking creatively when solving problems. People tend to always use the same strategies even under different conditions.

The Einstellung effect is a cognitive trap most people fall into frequently. It occurs, for example, when you try to solve a problem and, after analyzing it deeply and carefully, you determine it has no solution. You think that way because your reasoning is inflexible. Thus, you’re unable to see things from other perspectives.

To understand it better, it’s usually enough to remember a fairly common fact. Imagine an “expert” trying to solve a problem. They analyze a question and observe it from a thousand different prisms. Then, an outsider comes in, observes the circumstances, and suddenly comes up with a dazzling solution, one that the “expert” didn’t even consider.

What exactly happened there? Well, this type of situation sometimes manifests as hyperspecialization of knowledge. In other words, people master a series of approaches, subjects, and schemes of knowledge without leaving room for other possibilities nor even questioning or exploring new perspectives through lateral thinking.

There’s another fact you must know. The Einstellung effect doesn’t define a specific personality type. It’s a mental strategy that refers to when your brain comes up with the same answers and solutions. Thus, it’s very difficult for you to innovate and be original. Thus, it’s certainly a big problem.

The word Einstellung is German and comes from two words that mean “adjustment” and “attitude”, It defines situations in which one adjusts to the best-known solutions while hindering other alternatives.

An airplane show.

The Einstellung effect or the cognitive shortcut that blocks your mind

Why waste time trying other approaches when you already have your own strategies to solve problems? This line sums up the mental shortcuts people face many of their problems with. In a way, they do this because human beings have many preconceived ideas. In fact, you “work” with them on a daily basis. Mainly those that save you time and give you a sense of effectiveness.

Your previous knowledge often hinders your opportunity to apply more creative and original approaches. It’s the classic idea of ​​”Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know”. What this mainly demonstrates is that humans are creatures of habit.

People will always value more their repertoire of experiences than the opportunity to improvise and try new things. Hence, most of us are a lot more comfortable with “it’s always been done that way” than “let’s see what happens”.

According to the Einstellung effect, experts are less creative

The Einstellung effect was first described by Dr. Abraham Luchins in 1942. He revealed something that got everyone’s attention: “Experts” sometimes are the least creative and innovative people. But how can that be?

When a person has a lot of experience in something, they’re least likely to question themselves. They settle in a type of very tight cognitive scheme to rely on their experiences. This is why the presence of a “non-expert” in that area of ​​knowledge can, in fact, bring fresh and original ideas. They add new values to old perspectives.

A child looking at a camera.

Start with yourself and develop a more flexible thinking

Who hasn’t heard about lateral thinking, keeping a flexible mind, and the value of creativity along with the need for innovation? Everyone knows they must make use of and express these dimensions. This is because applying them to your work, lifestyle, and thinking would significantly promote your society’s well-being and progress.

However, you must admit that change isn’t always appreciated. The status quo and the “let’s do it as usual because it works” prevails in most work environments. This explains why the Einstellung effect forces you to approach problems with the usual solutions, thus oxidizing any progress.

So, what can you do? You could actually change many things. Begin with yourself and also encourage others to come up with a more innovative, flexible, and open reality. These are just some key concepts to reflect on.

How to reduce the Einstellung effect

  • When you’re trying to solve a problem, don’t use the first ideas that come to your mind. Instead, broaden your focus.
  • Cultivate your knowledge and expand it. You may be an expert in some areas, but relying on the knowledge of others will help you explore a more extensive horizon and see things from various perspectives. It’ll also help you relativize.
  • Control your mind’s reactions and refuse to conform. It’s very common to say things such as “I know it well” or “Why should I try it a different way if I know this works?” These kinds of thoughts lead to the Einstellung effect. Thus, stay away from them.
  • Dare to unlearn some things you think you know and learn from other perspectives and approaches.
  • Listen to those around you, pay attention to other perspectives, and encourage yourself to improvise and train your mind’s creative muscles.

To conclude, it takes time to adopt a more open, flexible, and original lateral approach. You must re-educate your brain. Thus, you need to stop clinging to your preconceived notions. Train yourself to approach novelty and, thus, learn through continuous growth.

  • Luchins, A. S. (1942). Mechanization in problem solving: The effect of Einstellung. Psychological Monographs54(6), i–95. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0093502