Closing the gap: connecting sudden representational change to the subjective Aha! experience in insightful problem solving

  • Amory H. Danek
  • Joshua Williams
  • Jennifer Wiley
Original Article


Two hallmarks of insightful problem solving are thought to be suddenness in the emergence of solution due to changes in problem representation, and the subjective Aha! experience. Although a number of studies have explored the Aha! experience, few studies have attempted to measure representational change. Following the lead of Durso et al. (Psychol Sci 5(2):94–97, 1994) and Cushen and Wiley (Conscious Cognit 21(3):1166–1175, 2012), in this study, participants made importance-to-solution ratings throughout their solution attempts as a way to assess representational change. Participants viewed a set of magic trick videos with the task of finding out how each trick worked, and rated six action verbs for each trick (including one that implied the correct solution) multiple times during solution. They were also asked to indicate the extent to which they experienced an Aha! moment. Patterns of ratings that showed a sudden change towards a correct solution led to stronger Aha! experiences than patterns that showed a more incremental change towards a correct solution, or a change towards incorrect solutions. The results show a connection between sudden changes in problem representations (leading to correct solutions) and the subjective appraisal of solutions as an Aha! experience. This offers the first empirical support for a close relationship between two theoretical constructs that have traditionally been assumed to be related to insightful problem solving.



We are grateful to magician Thomas Fraps ( for performing the magic tricks used in this study and to Karen Reyna, Zahra Dorestani and Christine Chesebrough for help with coding.


This material is based upon work supported by a grant to Amory Danek from the DFG (German Research Foundation) under Grant DA 1683/1-1, and a summer research fellowship from the UIC SROP to Joshua Williams.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Data availability

The dataset of the present study will be made available at the open repository for psychology data “PsychData” (


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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