, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 238-246

Intuition in insight and noninsight problem solving


People’s metacognitions, both before and during problem solving, may be of importance in motivating and guiding problem-solving behavior. These metacognitions could also be diagnostic for distinguishing among different classes of problems, each perhaps controlled by different cognitive processes. In the present experiments, intuitions on classic insight problems were compared with those on noninsight and algebra problems. The findings were as follows: (1) subjective feeling of knowing predicted performance on algebra problems but not on insight problems; (2) subjects’ expectations of performance greatly exceeded their actual performance, especially on insight problems; (3) normative predictions provided a better estimate of individual performance than did subjects’ own predictions, especially on the insight problems; and, most importantly, (4) the patterns-of-warmth ratings, which reflect subjects’ feelings of approaching solution, differed for insight and noninsight problems. Algebra problems and noninsight problems showed a more incremental pattern over the course of solving than did insight problems. In general, then, the data indicated that noninsight problems were open to accurate predictions of performance, whereas insight problems were opaque to such predictions. Also, the phenomenology of insight-problem solution was characterized by a sudden, unforeseen flash of illumination. We propose that the difference in phenomenology accompanying insight and noninsight problem solving, as empirically demonstrated here, be used to define insight.

This research was supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Grant A-0505 to the first author.