The influence of goal-state access cost on planning during problem solving

S M Waldron, J Patrick, Geoffrey B Duggan

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Two problem-solving experiments investigated the relationship between planning and the cost of accessing goal-state information using the theoretical framework of the soft constraints hypothesis (Gray Fu, 2004; Gray, Simms, Fu, Schoelles, 2006). In Experiment 1, 36 participants were allocated to low, medium, and high access cost conditions and completed a problem-solving version of the Blocks World Task. Both the nature of planning (memory based or display based) and its timing (before or during action) changed with high goal-state access cost (a mouse movement and a 2.5-s delay). In this condition more planning before action was observed, with less planning during action, evidenced by longer first-move latencies, more moves per goal-state inspection, and more short (0.8 s) and long (8 s) opreplannedo intermove latencies. Experiment 2 used an eight-puzzle-like transformation task and replicated the effect of goal-state access cost when more complex planning was required, also confirmed by sampled protocol data. Planning before an episode of move making increased with higher goal-state access cost, and planning whilst making moves increased with lower access cost. These novel results are discussed in the context of the soft constraints hypothesis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-503
Number of pages19
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


  • human planning
  • human memory
  • adaptive cognition
  • human problem solving
  • information access cost


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