Aha! Favors the prepared mind

If you've experienced the highs and lows of creative thinking, you know that sometimes the creative well is dry, while at other times creativity is free flowing. It is during the latter times that people often experience so-called "Aha!" moments those moments of clarity when the solution to a vexing problem falls into place with a sudden insight and you see connections that previously eluded you.

But why do "Aha!" moments sometimes come easily and sometimes not at all? A new study reveals that patterns of brain activity before people even see a problem predict whether they will solve it with or without such an insight, and these brain activity patterns are likely linked to distinct types of mental preparation.

John Kounios of Drexel University, Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University, and their research team report their findings in a new paper to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Previous research by this team demonstrated that the brain functions differently when a person arrives at "Aha!" solutions, compared to methodical solutions. The current study reveals that the distinct patterns of brain activity leading to "Aha!" moments of insight begin much earlier than the time a problem is solved. The research suggests that people can mentally prepare to have an "Aha!" solution even before a problem is presented. Specifically, as people prepare for problems that they solve with insight, their pattern of brain activity suggests that they are focusing attention inwardly, are ready to switch to new trains of thought, and perhaps are actively silencing irrelevant thoughts. These findings are important because they show that people can mentally prepare to solve problems with different thinking styles and that these different forms of preparation can be identified with specific patterns of brain activity. This study may eventually lead to an understanding of how to put people in the optimal "frame of mi

Contact: Wray Herbert
Association for Psychological Science

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