Skip to main content

Functional Fixedness

Functional fixedness

A limitation in perception.

In solving problems, humans try to focus on the best strategy to reach the goal. Sometimes problems are more difficult to solve than they need to be because the available solutions are not clear or obvious. That is, humans form mental sets, ways of viewing the potential solutions, that actually hinder progress.

When people develop functional fixedness, they recognize tools only for their obvious function. For example, an object is regarded as having only one fixed function. The problem-solver cannot alter his or her mental set to see that the tool may have multiple uses.

A common theatrical situation involves a group of people who want to enter a locked room when they have no key. A solution often arises when somebody thinks to insert a credit card between the door and the door jamb, releasing the lock. In real life, if one needs to get into a locked room, a useful implement might be present that would help solve your problem. Unfortunately, the person may not recognize that it will help because he or she is a victim of functional fixedness.

In many cases, people are quite adept at avoiding functional fixedness, as when using a nail clipper as a screwdriver or the heel of a shoe as a nutcracker.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Functional Fixedness." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . 22 Apr. 2019 <>.

"Functional Fixedness." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . (April 22, 2019).

"Functional Fixedness." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . Retrieved April 22, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.