Sometimes students lack the drive for problem solving. One might say that they are bored.

However, is there a scientific account on what causes ignorance of problem solving, when they simply are not interested in solving any problem? Like when they think that it is the grown-up's task to solve problems, not theirs.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ By "ignorance of problem solving," are you asking about interest in / motivation for problem solving, or knowledge of problem solving strategies, or sense of personal responsibility for problem solving? These are all slightly separate questions, so a little clarification could go a long way in helping to narrow down the right kinds of answers. $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2014 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ I don't really understand this question. If all students are not interested to work on understanding and solving a problem, then either the teacher does not know how to make the matter interesting for the kids, or the problem is not interesting for that age group, or the kids are tired or hungry or are still thinking of that porn video they saw on Jeff's mobile phone, or or or. If some kids work and some don't then the question is what the difference is between these kids. Maybe some are more stupid and overwhelmed, maybe some are girls and not interested in science stuff, maybe ... $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Jan 8, 2014 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ The first thing you need to do is prove that a disinterest in problem sovling lies at the heart of the matter, and not something else entirely. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Jan 8, 2014 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ @gergely-buday: if you grow up in an affluent society where looks and popularity is everything, then why would anyone be interested in problem solving? $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2014 at 4:56
  • $\begingroup$ What I experience, @what, is that no matter which subject I lecture at my college, students are not keen on having a new problem. In theory they study for a profession somehow they do not realise that being an IT guy requires a lot of problem solving and they should practice it already in the classroom. And they do not realise that I might take as kidding that they want to go the easy way but at an interview or at a company the HR person or their boss will not be amused by this. $\endgroup$
    – Gergely
    Jan 11, 2014 at 11:58

2 Answers 2


Nature supplies each of us with a Homo Sapien type brain with 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses. However the brain is plastic and can change its structure based on the way it is programmed psychologically.

Not all people are capable of solving all problems. Our abilities mental and physical are based on what we spend our time doing. Even the banal task that one could imagine is quite exhilarating to another person with a brain which was trained and programmed differently.

First the brains structure is made up of the connections the neurons make. My favorite study which shows this is the Cab Drivers Brain Experiment. It showed that after years of labor (and compared to a control group) London taxi drivers had enlarged in structure posterior hippocampus giving the cabbies the ability to store large amount of navigational data in their brain. (That is not to say that the cabbies all enjoyed driving though.) Another example of this includes changes to accommodate musical ability. Exploiting neural plasticity has led to treatments for dyslexia. Likewise also everyone who uses the internet has seen ads for Luminosity but not everyone knows that it doesn't work well.

People who are mentally ill have connections in their brain that lead them to illness. These connections can be caused by physical or by self-psychological training. That is to say chemical imbalances are often the result of a structural or physical malformations. A brain may for whatever reason produces too much or little neurotransmitter or have many connections to an incorrect part of the brain. If the brain was a terrane the paths traveled more often would eventually become "paved" (somewhat permanent). It take medication and counseling to break up those bad pathways and form new and healthy pathways.

Nature or nurture has resulted in the group of people which I think you describe as somewhat dependent or ADHD. Only proper counselling and perhaps even some medication will be able to free them from their lack of motivation. Even with proper treatment some people will for whatever reason never want to act in the way you see fit. Homework will always be at times left undone. This is a truth no matter how advanced the teacher is in academia or how driven and motivated the pupil.


When you want to study Psychology in Germany, there is currently a numerus clausus of 1.3 (with 1 being the best mark and 6 being the worst). That means that only the best few percent of high school students are admitted to study Psychology (marks are approximately normally distributed between 1 and 4). We have tested the intelligence of our psychology students and found that it ranges from around 100 to around 140, with the majority scoring around 110 to 120. In fact their distribution looks like a 100 to 140 segment of the intelligence bell curve, with only a very few students scoring more than 130. This means that despite them being the top ranking students by school graduation marks, they don't rank among the top intelligent of the population!

Now, if you remember that intelligence is defined as general cognitive problem-solving skill, you cannot be surprised that at least for students of Psychology their problem-solving skills are only mildly above average. That they are not much interested in performing in a field they don't excel at, is not surprising.

With our students, I see the same thing you see with yours. Only a small number of people have this personality trait to an extent that they will excel in any academic discipline. The majority of students are in fact cull: they happen like sawdust. Which is a problem of bad admission selection based on irrelevant characteristics like school marks and memory capacity, which causes good marks in test like the GMAT or high school graduation, but not new ideas in research.

Basically and to sum up, my answer would be: Most students are too stupid to solve problems and are only at a university because better admission selection would cost too much money and because a harsher selection contradicts the current ideology of equality.

  • $\begingroup$ This answer is very ethnocentric to a single academic program. Your school has problems and I don't think they are in admissions. It is egotistical to call the people who fail your program stupid. $\endgroup$
    – user3832
    Jan 11, 2014 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ NCs and admission tests are used at universities all over the world. It's scarcely a practice of a single academic program. And if the OP found the same symptoms, then maybe my analysis is wrong, but obviously the same things are going on at different universities, in different countries, in different academic fields. What's "ethnocentric" about any of that? $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Jan 11, 2014 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ your response is culture bound to academia based problem solving. Just because people fail at that limited and archaic form doesn't mean they fail at all forms of problem solving and the inverse is correct as well. $\endgroup$
    – user3832
    Jan 11, 2014 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ But the question was about academia based problem solving. Note the word "students" in the question title and text. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Jan 11, 2014 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ wow someone should write Socrates and tell him he didn't have students or teach. $\endgroup$
    – user3832
    Jan 11, 2014 at 19:25

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