Tower Of Hanoi Test: What Is It And What Does It Measure?

This test assesses the mental skills involved in problem solving.

Hanoi tower

The psychological tests to measure all kinds of constructs are many and varied. Most of them use questionnaires or interviews that the evaluated person must complete or fill out following a series of guidelines; while others, of a much more practical nature, urge the person to carry out a series of practical exercises which reflect a whole range of cognitive abilities and capacities.

One of these tests is the Tower of Hanoi test, an activity that was originally conceived as a mathematical problem but which with the passage of time was introduced into the field of psychological evaluation to measure mental processes typical of executive functions .

What is the Tower of Hanoi Test?

There are a large number of tests designed to assess skills such as planning ability and executive functioning. One of them is the Tower of Hanoi Test. The test measures some aspects of executive functions since, to complete it, the person needs to anticipate and solve the unknown cognitively, before making any movement.

This test was created in 1883 by the French-born mathematician Edouard Lucas. Lucas was inspired by a Hindu temple, as well as the history of its creation, to elaborate the characteristics of the test, as well as the three towers that make up the test. These characteristics have remained practically intact from the moment of its creation. However, it was not until 1975 when it began to be used with the aim of understanding people’s behavior and evaluating different skills and strategies during problem solving.

The characteristics of which we spoke previously, and that have given this test a certain fame, are both the speed and the ease of application, as well as the simplicity of the evaluation, the analysis of the results and the interpretation of these.

The person who performs the Hanoi Towers test must solve a transformation problem for which he will need some mental effort, which will help him to reach the answer through a series of movements. To solve the enigma, the use of complex reasoning in problem solving and learning mechanisms is required.

What does the test consist of?

The purpose of the Hanoi Tower Test is to move the tower of discs along three rods that are in front of the person, from the initial configuration to a final configuration indicated by the evaluator. This tower is divided into blocks or discs, which the patient must move to restore the tower to its final position.

The second rod consists of a “support” tower that will allow the person to temporarily place the discs. However, one of the requirements of the test is that the person must perform the least number of movements possible and with the least number of errors.

In addition, the test was developed with three conditions that restrict the movements that the person can or cannot do. These restrictions are:

  • The person is not allowed to place a large disc on top of a smaller disc.
  • The person can only perform movements in the same order in which the discs are placed. Always starting with the disc you find first.
  • The discs always have to be on one of the three axes. That is, the person cannot keep them in their hand or leave them on the table

Any movement or attempt that implies having to skip either of these two conditions will be counted as an error and communicated to the person. In the digital variant of the test, the program directly prevents any of these movements from being carried out and, in addition, it is notified by an audible signal.

Technical characteristics of the test

Like all tests used in psychological evaluation, the Hanoi Towers Test has a series of technical characteristics both at the level of administration of the test, population, material, etc.

1. Target population

The Towers of Hanoi test can be administered to children, adolescents and adults, adapting in each case the difficulty levels of the test.

2. Material

The material consists of three small towers made up of a stake each and three tokens of different sizes.

3. Administration

The development of the test consists in that the person must change the arrangement of the discs from the initial configuration to the final one, carrying out the least amount of movements and with the least number of errors.

The difficulty of the test can vary and increase, using from 3 to 9 different discs.

4. Score

The evaluator must collect the number of movements that the person performs until the final configuration is achieved. In the same way, you will need to count the number of errors and the amount of time it takes the person to solve the problem.

The scores are switched and transformed into a final total score that reflects the person’s ability to solve the problem. Finally, a low number of moves and errors is interpreted as a reflection of good execution.

In what contexts is it administered?

Although not particularly well known, the Towers of Hanoi test is a basic and practical assessment instrument, so its administration can be useful in a large number of fields. However, the contexts in which it is most used are:

  • Psychological clinics.
  • Employment orientation and personnel selection centers.
  • Teaching centers.
  • Military and defense contexts.

What does the test measure?

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the objective of the Hanoi Towers test is to carry out an evaluation of the person’s executive functions. Specifically, the ability to plan and solve problems.

The executive functions refer to all the complex mental tasks that the person needs to perform to plan, organize, direct, verify and evaluate the behaviors or behaviors necessary for adaptation to the environment and problem solving.

The mental processes typical of executive functions are:

  • Working memory.
  • Planning.
  • Reasoning.
  • Flexibility.
  • Inhibition.
  • Decision making.
  • Time estimate.
  • Dual execution.
  • Ability to multitask.

However, in the Towers of Hanoi test he intends to emphasize the assessment of planning and problem-solving capacity.

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