Problem solving consists of using generic or ad hoc methods, in an orderly manner, to find solutions to problems. Some of the problem-solving techniques developed and used in artificial intelligence, computer science, engineering, mathematics, or medicine are related to mental problem-solving techniques studied in psychology.
The term problem solving is used in numerous disciplines, sometimes with different perspectives, visuals, and often with different terminologies. For instance, it is a mental process in psychology and a computerized process in computer science. Problems can also be classified into two different types (ill-defined and well-defined) from which appropriate solutions are to be made. Ill-defined problems are those that do not have clear goals, solution paths, or expected solutions. On the contrary, well-defined problems have specific goals, clearly defined solution paths, and clear expected solutions. These problems also allow for more initial planning than ill-defined problems. Solving problems sometimes involves dealing with pragmatics (logic) and semantics (interpretation of the problem). The ability to understand what the goal of the problem is, and what rules could be applied, represents the key to solving the problem. Sometimes the problem requires abstract thinking and coming up with a creative solution.
Thomas J. D'Zurilla in 1988 defined problem solving as a "cognitive–affective–behavioral process through which an individual (or group) attempts to identify, discover, or invent effective means of coping with problems encountered in every day living". It is an evolutionary drive for living organisms and an important coping skill for dealing with a variety of concerns. Problem solving specifically in psychology refers to a state of desire for reaching a definite 'goal' from a present condition that either is not directly moving toward the goal, is far from it, or needs more complex logic for finding a missing description of conditions or steps toward the goal. In each case "where you want to be" is an imagined (or written) state in which you would like to be and the solutions are situation- or context-specific. This process includes problem finding or 'problem analysis', problem shaping, generating alternative strategies, implementation and verification of the selected solution. Distinguished feature of a problem is that there is a goal to be reached and how you get there depends upon problem orientation (problem-solving coping style and skills) and systematic analysis. The nature of human problem solving processes and methods is a field of study and work for mental health professionals. Methods of studying problem solving include introspection, behaviorism, simulation, computer modeling, and experiment. Social psychologists look into the person-environment relationship aspect of the problem and independent and interdependent problem-solving methods. Problem solving has been defined as a higher-order cognitive process and intellectual function that requires the modulation and control of more routine or fundamental skills.
Problem solving has two major domains: mathematical problem solving and personal problem solving. Both are seen in terms of some difficulty or barrier that is encountered. Empirical researches show that self-interest and interpersonal skills; collaborative and instrumental problem approach (it helps in reflective and expansive understanding of the problem situation and its preferable outcome); strategy fluency (the number and diversity of strategies) and conceptual clarity that can lead to an action-identification (Vallacher & Wegner, 1987); temporal lifespan perspective that lead to selectivity in strategy (problem focused and emotion focused strategies); self-efficacy and problem familiarity; formation of 'carry over' relationships (egalitarian friendship, romantic ties, cliques, hygge's, etc.) that helps individuals mutually move through life and provide a sense of identity (Antonucci, Birditt, & Ajrouch, 2011); negotiation; type of relationships (obligatory vs. voluntary); gender typing; problem focused and emotion focused strategies as some strategies and factors that influence everyday problem solving. Neuropsychologists have studied that individuals with frontal lobe injuries with deficits in emotional control and reasoning can be remediated with effective rehabilitation and could improve the capacity of injured persons to resolve everyday problems (Rath, Simon, Langenbahn, Sherr, & Diller, 2003).
Interpersonal everyday problem solving is dependent upon the individual personal motivational and contextual components. One such component is the emotional valence of "real-world" problems and it can either impede or aid problem-solving performance. Researchers have focused on the role of emotions in problem solving (D'Zurilla & Goldfried, 1971; D'Zurilla & Nezu, 1982), demonstrating that poor emotional control can disrupt focus on the target task and impede problem resolution and likely lead to negative outcomes such as fatigue, depression, and inertia (Rath, Langenbahn, Simon, Sherr, & Diller, 2004). In conceptualization, human problem solving consists of two related processes: problem orientation, the motivational/attitudinal/affective approach to problematic situations and problem-solving skills. Studies conclude people's strategies cohere with their goals (Hoppmann & Blanchard-Fields, 2010, Berg et al., 1998) and they are stemmed from the natural process of comparing oneself with others (Sonstegard and Bitter, 1998).