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Hans Stuyck

In our daily lives, most of the activities that we perform tap into our ability to solve problems creatively. Although this is generally a conscious endeavor, sometimes, we are struck by a sudden epiphany. The felt component of such an experience is popularly known as the Aha! experience or insight. Although there is a consensus on the phenomenological characteristics of the Aha! experience, there remains considerable debate on its underlying mechanisms. On the one hand, the special-process view presumes an unconscious, discontinuous process, during which the problem solver reaches the solution by suddenly representing the problem in a profoundly new way. On the other hand, the business-as-usual view assumes a conscious gradual problem-solving process, similar to the problem-solving strategy used to solve everyday non-insight problems. To distinguish these two views, we will present participants with word puzzles (i.e., Compound Remote Associates test) that can be solved with insight and non-insight. Our first study shows that insight is phenomenologically as well as behaviorally different from non-insight, as reflected in the higher accuracy rate, the higher solution confidence and the burst of positive emotions associated with insight. Hereafter, we will examine the proposed implicit nature of the insight process in three ways: (a) by applying a dualtask paradigm to assess how the problem solving performance is affected by a concurrent memory load that competes for the limited cognitive resources; (b) by continuously, online tracking participants’ perceived nearness to the solution during the problem solving process; and (c) by assessing whether and how psychophysiological changes occur as a consequence of the immersion into the problem solving process. This project aims to contribute to the vast research efforts of elucidating the driving mechanisms behind the Aha! experience, which in turn might provide new insights into how its occurrence can be enhanced.

promotor: Eva van den Bussche