A series of experiments conducted by a team of researchers determined that a person’s sudden insights are often more accurate at solving problems than thinking them through analytically.
“Conscious, analytic thinking can sometimes be rushed or sloppy, leading to mistakes while solving a problem,” said team member John Kounios, PhD, professor in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences and the co-author of The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight and the Brain.
“However, insight is unconscious and automatic — it can’t be rushed. When the process runs to completion in its own time and all the dots are connected unconsciously, the solution pops into awareness as an Aha! moment. This means that when a really creative, breakthrough idea is needed, it’s often best to wait for the insight rather than settling for an idea that resulted from analytical thinking.”
Experiments with four different types of timed puzzles showed that those answers that occurred as sudden insights were more likely to be correct. Moreover, people who tended to have more of these insights were also more likely to miss the deadline rather than provide an incorrect, but in-time, answer. Those who responded based on analytic thought were more likely to provide an answer by the deadline, though these last-minute answers were often wrong.
Carola Salvi, PhD, of Northwestern University, was lead author on the paper ‘Insightful solutions are correct more often than analytic solutions’ in the journal Thinking & Reasoning. “The history of great discoveries is full of successful insight episodes, fostering a common belief that when people have an insightful thought, they are likely to be correct,” Salvi explained. “However, this belief has never been tested and may be a fallacy based on the tendency to report only positive cases and neglect insights that did not work. Our study tests the hypothesis that the confidence people often have about their insights is justified.”
Putting Insight to The Test
Each experiment making up the study used one group of distinct puzzles: one experiment used only linguistic puzzles, another used strictly visual ones, and two used puzzles with both linguistic and visual elements.
For example, one type of linguistic puzzle showed three different words: ‘Crab’, ‘pine’ and ‘sauce’. The participant was then asked to provide the word that could fit all of them to make a compound word, which was ‘apple’, in this case. The visual puzzle provided a scrambled image and required the participant to say what object they thought the puzzle depicted. Each experiment consisted of between 50 and 180 puzzles. Participants were given 15 or 16 seconds to respond. As soon as the participant thought they solved the puzzle, they pressed a button. Then they reported whether the solution came through insight or analytical thinking. Overwhelmingly, responses derived from insight proved correct. In the linguistic puzzles, 94 per cent of the responses classified as insight were correct, compared to 78 per cent for the analytic thinking responses. For the visual puzzles, 78 per cent of the responses were correct, versus 42 per cent for the analytic responses.
Bad Guesses,Good Insights
When taking the timing into account, answers given during the last five seconds before the deadline had a lower probability of being correct. For the linguistic puzzles, 34 per cent of the responses were wrong, compared to 10 percent of the responses being wrong for quicker answers; for the visual puzzles, 72 per cent of the answers given during the last five seconds were wrong.
The majority of those late wrong answers were based on analytic thinking.
Insightful thinkers tend not to guess. They don't give an answer until they have had an Aha! moment. “Because insight solutions are produced below the threshold of consciousness, it is not possible to monitor and adjust processing before the solution enters awareness,” Salvi said.
Hmm vs Aha!
Analytical thinking is best used for problems in which known strategies have been laid out for solutions, such as arithmetic, Kounios said. But for new problems without a set path for finding a solution, insight is often best. The new study shows that more weight should be placed on these sudden thoughts. www.sciencedaily.com