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PQ 14.3 — Is this agreement the only way to serve this purpose?

·403 words·2 mins
PQ Series Psychology

PQ 14.3 — Is this agreement the only way to serve this purpose?


Human beings are prone to a delightful/not delightful array of onboard features. Some might call them bugs: Biases, cognitive blind spots, idiosyncrasies. How exactly these play out in any one person’s life varies. But for the most part, we all have them. And we’re usually unaware of them, unless:

  1. We’re well acquainted with at least the broad strokes of cognitive science (and even this knowledge is no guarantee, see next point, which matters more).
  2. We possess a high degree self-honesty and a commitment to introspection.
  3. We’re confronted with a situation that brings them to our attention.

Functional Fixedness

One delightfully common example of cognitive bias is functional fixedness. Essentially, functional fixedness is our tendency to only use something the way that it is traditionally used. When given a problem and a set of tools, we’ll default to treating objects as we’re used to seeing them treated. In a classic experiment, participants were given a candle, a box of thumb tacks, and a book of matches and told to attach the candle to the wall in a way that it did not drip to the ground below.

Participants tried to attach to the candle directly to the wall with the tacks (which did not work) or to glue it to the wall by melting it (which again didn’t really work). But the problem had a very easy and elegant — although widely overlooked — solution. Empty the box that the  thumb tacks came in and stick that to the wall with a single tack, setting the candle on top, like so:


The solution to Duncker's (1945) candle problem. Text below the images reads ""The subjects are asked to attach a candle to the wall and are given a box of tacks, candles, and matches, as shown in panel A. The solution is shown in panel B"

By Karl Duncker{.extiw} – Duncker, Karl (1945) On Problem Solving, Psychological Monographs, 58, American Psychological Association OCLC{.extiw}: 968793., Public Domain, Link


I’ve seen functional fixedness rear its head many times in polyamorous relationship systems. Particularly when a hiccup happens. The normal function of a relationship agreement is improve understanding and thereby mitigate relationship difficulties. Because of this, many people will look to renegotiate relationship agreements at the first sign of trouble. And sometimes this is the right move. But other times, there are other logistical fixes that will accomplish harmony.


This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions and answers, please see this  indexed list.


PQ 14.1 — What is the purpose of this agreement?
·373 words·2 mins
PQ Series
PQ 7.3 — The Ladder of Inference: Challenging Our Assumptions
·605 words·3 mins
Communication PQ Series Psychology
PQ 5.1 — Why do I have relationships with other people?
·462 words·3 mins
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