How does cognitive fixation affect innovation? An empirical examination based on crowdsourcing platform

YANG Guang1 WANG Li1

(1.Shanghai University of Finance and Economics)

【Abstract】Innovation is the engine of social progress. Innovators face many difficulties and challenges during the practice. Numerous studies have shown that cognitive fixation will limit people’s minds and reduce the quality of creation. Cognitive fixation could be developed from innovators’ own experience or other people’s experience. There are few studies that focus on the impacts of different types of cognitive fixation on creativity and how different kinds of cognitive fixation interact with each other. Specifically, we borrow the theory of cognitive fixation from psychology and use a 6-year panel data of individual user’s ideation from a “crowdsourcing” clothing company to empirically examine the effects of usersown past success, the success of other users and the interaction of the two types of cognitive fixation on users’ future success. We find that: (1) as for users without prior success, the cognitive fixation formed by other users’ successes raises the likelihood of success for their future ideation; (2) the cognitive fixation from own past success lowers the likelihood for future success; (3) as for users with success experience, the cognitive fixation formed by other users’ success can alleviate the negative effects brought by the fixation from own past successes. We contribute to the literature by distinguishing two types of cognitive fixation from own and other users’ success and studying their differentiated and interactive effects on users’ future success. We also explore the potential mechanism underlying the findings.

【Keywords】 innovation; cognitive fixation; crowdsourcing;


【Funds】 Project of National Natural Science Foundation of China (71472115)

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    [1]. ① This paper replaces the company name by “T-shirt ‘crowdsourcing’ company” due to confidentiality requirement. [^Back]

    [2]. ② In addition to the business world, in recent years the “crowdsourcing” with its core features—“relying on the power from the mass” has been flexibly integrated into different fields, which generates great values to the entire society. In the field of culture, famous websites like Wikipedia, Zhihu, and Guokr have made great contributions to the dissemination of knowledge in all areas; in the field of charity, many seriously ill patients who have financial difficulty could raise funds through QFund, relying on the power of Wechat’s “moments” function to continue their treatment; and in the field of public service, many non-profit organizations also actively use “crowdsourcing” to complete their daily work. For example, the US Patent and Trademark Office applies the “crowdsourcing” model to review patent applications, which enables a high working efficiency. [^Back]

    [3]. ③ The “two string problem” refers to the situation that two strings that are far from each other, hanging from the ceiling, and the subjects are asked to tie these two strings together while they can never touch the two strings simultaneously. The only tool available is a tweezer which should be tied to the end of one string and act as pendulum, so as to solve this problem. However, Maier found that most subjects could not think of other ways of using the tweezer in addition to the tweezer’s designed functions. Such cognitive fixation is called functional fixity, which belongs to typical thinking, a rigid cogitation about the tool functions in problem-solving. [^Back]

    [4]. ④ The Luchins’ math question is shown as the picture below.This is a classic application that uses three jars of different capacities (Jar A, Jar B, and Jar C) to infer the desired volume of water. Therein the first nine questions require three jars to solve the problem, while the tenth question only needs two, of which the answer is A and C. [^Back]

    [5]. ⑤ We take the sample starting from 2005, while two users are only active at the second stage within the observation years, that is, they had successful experience before 2005, and submitted creations afterwards, but they are not brought in the following descriptive statistics because the number is too small and not statistically significant. [^Back]

    [6]. ⑥ Before clicking “I’d buy it,” if there is no cash in the user’s account or the cash amount is insufficient, the user would be reminded for “Insufficient balance, the click is invalid.” Therefore, we believe that most users who successfully clicked “I’d buy it” were fully aware of the rules of “I’d buy it.” [^Back]

    [7]. ⑦ Any successful users would be awarded with USD 2000 and USD 500 of voucher for this community. Furthermore, the company would also print the user’s name on the logo of each T-shirt. [^Back]

    [8]. ⑧ The website would conduct preliminary reviews of the ideas submitted by users and eliminate some non-compliant works (such as infringement of copyright, violence and pornography) [^Back]

    [9]. ⑨ The x-axis of this figure uses the variable measuring cognitive fixation stemming from users’ past successes and makes adjustments based on a 21-day circle, which means that users are aware of the number of their previous successful creations before they submit their ideas in the specific round. [^Back]

    [10]. ⑩ The x-axis of Figure 8 and Figure 9 use the variable that measures users’ cognitive fixation resulting from others’ successes, and makes adjustments based a different duration, so it means that before submitting ideas in the specific round, users are aware of the number of successful creations among the ones they concerned. [^Back]


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This Article


CN: 11-1235/F

Vol , No. 12, Pages 109-124+157+188

December 2017


Article Outline



  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Literature review and theoretical hypothesis
  • 3 Data and sample features
  • 4 Estimated results and discussions
  • 5 Research conclusions and implications
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