Journal of Adult Development

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 195–208 | Cite as

Exploring collaborative problem solving in adulthood

  • Roger A. Dixon
  • Diane P. Fox
  • Lee Trevithick
  • Rebecca Brundin


Collaborative problem solving occurs in situations in which two or more individuals cooperate in appraising, representing, and solving a variety of cognitive tasks. Collaborative groups are the context for much everyday cognitive activity in adulthood. Collaboration has been explored as a means through which older adults may maintain high levels of performance, perhaps compensating for individual-level cognitive and neurological decline. This study explored the effects of collaboration (group size) and adult age on solving both fixed- and unrestricted-alternatives 20 Questions tasks. Younger (M=24.3 years) and older (M=67.9 years) adults were randomly assigned to one of three homogeneous group size conditions: individuals, dyads, and tetrads. Results indicated some dissociation between individual-level performance (poorer for older adults) and collaborative performance (better for older adults). For the fixed-alternatives task, older adults produced more of the relatively inefficient hypothesis-scanning questions than did younger adults. In contrast, older collaborative groups produced more of the efficient constraint-seeking questions than hhpothesis-scanning questions, and an amount equivalent to that of younger adults. Overall performance for the difficult unrestricted-alternatives task was less efficient for both younger and older adults. The roles of task type, group characteristics, and adult age are discussed.

Key words

Aging collaborative cognition compensation problem solving 20 questions 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roger A. Dixon
    • 1
  • Diane P. Fox
    • 1
  • Lee Trevithick
    • 1
  • Rebecca Brundin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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