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Intuitive and analytical processes in insight problem solving: a psycho-rhetorical approach to the study of reasoning

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Language and thought share a unitary cognitive activity, addressed by an interpretative function. This interpretative effort reveals the assonance between the attribution of meaning to an utterance and the discovery of a solution via restructuring in insight problem solving. We suggest a view of complex integrated analytical thinking, which assumes that thinking processes information in different ways, depending on the characteristics of the tasks the subject has to solve, so that reasoning results in a stepwise, rule-based process or in a widespread activity of search where implicit parallel processes are also involved. We investigated the interrelationship between language and thought in insight problem solving, in both its positive (Experiments 1 and 3) and its negative effects (Experiment 2). Our results are discussed in the light of the debate on dual processing theories.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. 1.

    The cognitive theory by Simon and Newell (1971) of non-insight problems emphasizes the WM constraints, and the consequent activation of heuristics in order to reach a solution.

  2. 2.

    “When a solution appears suddenly and completely the very factor which sets it off may be lost to consciousness. Just what factors set off a new organization cannot be known except by means of an objective measure… What must be explained is how and why certain ideas appear in consciousness…After the idea is conscious the fundamental process is over…there is no conscious intermediate stage”. (Maier, 1931, pp. 192–193).

  3. 3.

    However, if the problem is used in other contexts, a school-room for example, restructuring might not be acceptable as a solution, if the purpose of the problem is to verify the pupil’s knowledge of the area of the square and of the parallelogram.

  4. 4.

    An analogous request was formulated by Mosconi (1986), referring to a different version of the problem adopted by Kanizsa (1973).

  5. 5.

    Differently from Schooler et al. (1993), Gilhooly et al. (2010) claim a lack of interaction between the insight factor and the verbalization condition on solution rates. Therefore, they accept the “business as usual” view, rejecting the “special process” view, although their results show a benign effect of verbalization in the non-insight problems, which on the contrary supports Schooler et al.’s “special process” view.


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Macchi, L., Bagassi, M. Intuitive and analytical processes in insight problem solving: a psycho-rhetorical approach to the study of reasoning. Mind Soc 11, 53–67 (2012).

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  • Insight problems
  • Analytical thinking
  • Dual systems
  • Formulation effect
  • Verbalization effect