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In order to solve an insight problem, you have to see the problem in a novel way. Insight is a sudden understanding of a problem or a strategy that aids in solving that problem. Usually, this involves conceptualizing the problem in a completely new way. Although insights might feel like they are sudden, they are often the result of prior thought and effort. While insight can be involved in solving well-structured problems, it is more often associated with ill-structured problems. There are several views on insight:
- The Nothing-Special View: Insight is merely an extension of ordinary perceiving, recognizing, learning, and conceiving. Insights are significant products of ordinary thinking.
- The Neo-Gestaltist View: Insight problems solvers show poor ability to predict their success. Problem-solvers do not show increase in feelings of "warmth" as they draw nearer to a solution of an insight problem. This supports the Gestaltist view that there is something special about insightful problem solving, as opposed to noninsightful, routine problem solving.
- The Three-Process View: There are three different kinds of insights. (1) Selective-encoding insights involve distinguishing relevant from irrelevant information. (2) Selective-comparison insights involve novel perceptions of how new information relates to old information. (3) Selective-combination insights involve taking selectively encoded and compared bits of relevant information and combining them in a novel way.
When people solve, or attempt to solve an insight puzzle, they experience a common phenomenology, that is, a set of behavioural properties that accompany problem-solving activity (for a useful edited review of insight problems and their phenomenology, see Sternberg & Davidson, 1995). Other kinds of puzzle, such as the Tower of Hanoi, an example of a transformation problem, tend not to yield these phenomena. The phenomena may include:
- Impasse: An individual reaches a point where he or she simply appears to run out of ideas of new things to try that might solve a problem.
- Fixation: An individual repeats the same type of solution attempt again and again, even when they see that it does not seem to lead to solution.
- Incubation: A pause or gap between attempts to solve a problem can sometimes appear to aid the finding of a solution, as if one is clearing the mind of faulty ideas.
- The 'Aha' experience: The solutions to some insight problems can seem to appear from nowhere, like a Eureka moment.
- Sternberg, R.J. (2009). Cognitive Psychology. Belmont, CA, Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
- Langley, P., et al. (1987). Scientific discovery : computational explorations of the creative processes. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.
- Metcalfe, J. & Wiebe, D. (1987). Intuition in insight and noninsight problem solving. Memory & Cognition 1987, 15(3), 238-246.
- Davidson, J.E. & Sternberg, R.J. (2003). The psychology of problem solving. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
- Sternberg, R. J. and J. E. Davidson (1995). The nature of insight. Cambridge MA, MIT Press.