I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to see the new X-Men movie — I rather liked it. There was a scene in the movie that presents a wonderful example of functional fixedness, depending upon your familiarity with the story. Before moving on, I should remind you of the meaning of functional fixedness. Essentially, it’s the idea that, sometimes, we might have a hard time seeing the potential utility of an object. For example, if you need to push nail back into a piece of wood, but you don’t have a hammer around, it might take you more than a few minutes to think of using your shoe. The functional fixedness lies in one’s lack of ability to see the shoe as a potential hammer-like object. The ‘function’ of the shoe is ‘fixed’ on being a shoe.
Alright, now that we’ve reviewed functional fixedness, let’s look at the example from the recent X-Men movie, Days of Future Past. Before continuing, I should say…
(minor spoiler alert)
Near the beginning of the movie, a couple of the X-Men are trying to free another X-Men from a holding cell in the basement of the Pentagon. As the person being held in this cell is Magneto and has the ability to create/control magnetic fields, jailing him with metal is a bad idea. So, he’s being held in a glass encasing. The X-Men trying to free Magneto make it into the basement of the Pentagon and the one person who is meant to free Magneto from the cell is Quicksilver. Earlier scenes from this movie show us that he has the ability to move extremely fast. In fact, he moves so fast that his ability could be mistaken for teleportation.
With Quicksilver standing on top of the glass enclosure, those who weren’t familiar with the X-Men comics may have wondered just how this person with ‘superhuman speed’ was going to free Magneto. This is our example of functional fixedness.
If, when you were watching this scene, you thought to yourself, “Quicksilver won’t be able to free Magneto with his superpower because he can just move quickly, and there’s no door for him to get in,” you’d be locked in functional fixedness.
A few moments later, the answer is revealed: Quicksilver has superhuman speed, so he can use his power to shatter the glass and Magneto is freed.
Note: I didn’t mention this initially, but Quicksilver is able to break the glass because he is able to move his hands so quickly such that he can create a resonance that breaks the glass. For real-life example of this in action, watch this wine glass.