Analysis of minimal complex systems and complex problem solving require different forms of causal cognition

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In the last 20 years, a stream of research emerged under the label of „complex problem solving“ (CPS). This research was intended to describe the way people deal with complex, dynamic, and intransparent situations. Complex computer-simulated scenarios were as stimulus material in psychological experiments. This line of research lead to subtle insights into the way how people deal with complexity and uncertainty. Besides these knowledge-rich, realistic, intransparent, complex, dynamic scenarios with many variables, a second line of research used more simple, knowledge-lean scenarios with a low number of variables („minimal complex systems“, MCS) that have been proposed recently in problem-solving research for the purpose of educational assessment. In both cases, the idea behind the use of microworlds is to increase validity of problem solving tasks by presenting interactive environments that can be explored and controlled by participants while pursuing certain action goals. The main argument presented here is: both types of systems - CPS and MCS – can only be dealt with successfully if causal dependencies between input and output variables are identified and used for system control. System knowledge is necessary for control and intervention. But CPS and MCS differ in their way of how causal dependencies are identified and how the mental model is constructed; therefore, they cannot be compared directly to each other with respect to the cognitive processes that are necessary for solving the tasks. Knowledge-poor MCS tasks address only a small fraction of the cognitive processes and structures needed for knowledge-rich CPS situations.
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Archival date: 2016-08-11
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