, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 730-737

Aha! Insight experience correlates with solution activation in the right hemisphere

Abstract

In one experiment, we tested for an association between semantic activation in the right hemisphere (RH) and left hemisphere (LH) and the Aha! experience when people recognize solutions to insight-like problems. The compound remote associate problems used in this experiment sometimes evoke an Aha! experience and sometimes do not. On each trial, participants (N = 44) attempted to solve these problems and, after 7 sec, named a target word, made a solution decision, and rated their insight experience of recognizing the solution. As in prior studies, the participants demonstrated more solution priming for solutions presented to the left visual field-RH (lvf-RH) than for solutions presented to the right visual field-LH (rvf-LH). As was predicted, following unsolved problems the participants showed greater priming for solutions that they rated as evoking an insight experience on the subsequent solution decision than for solutions that did not evoke an insight experience. This association was stronger for solutions presented to the lvf-RH than for those presented to the rvf-LH. These results tie the subjective experience of insight to an objective measure-semantic priming-and suggest that people have an Aha! experience in part because they already had semantic activation that could lead them to recognize the solution quickly. We believe semantic activation in both hemispheres cooperatively contributes to problem solving, but weak solution activation that contributes to the Aha! experience is more likely to occur in the RH than in the LH.

Research and writing were supported by NIDCD/NIH Grants R29 DC 02160 and R01 DC 04052 to M.J.B. Data were collected while both authors were at Rush Medical College, Chicago, IL