Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 13–21 | Cite as

Feeling the Insight: Uncovering Somatic Markers of the “aha” Experience

  • Wangbing Shen
  • Yu Tong
  • Yuan Yuan
  • Huijia Zhan
  • Chang Liu
  • Jing Luo
  • Houde Cai


Whether internal insight can be recognized by experiencing (somatic feeling) remains an unexplored problem. This study investigated the issue by examining potential somatic markers of the “aha” experience occurring at the moment of sudden insight. Participants were required to solve a set of compound remote associates (CRA) problems and were simultaneously monitored via electrodermal and cardiovascular recordings. The “aha”-related psychological components and somatic markers were determined by contrasting insightful solutions with non-insightful solutions. Results showed that the “aha” experience was an amalgam entailing positive affects and approached cognition accompanied by a greater mean skin conductance response (mSCR) amplitude and a marginally accelerated heart rate than the “no-aha” one. These results confirm and extend findings of the multidimensionality of the “aha” feeling and offer the first direct evidence of somatic markers, particularly an electrodermal signature of an “aha” feeling, which suggests a sudden insight could likely be experienced by individuals’ external soma.


“aha” experience Creative insight Somatic marker Skin conductance response 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31500870, 31271079), the fourth high-level personnel training project in Jiangsu province, the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (2017B14514). The study was also supported by the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu College of China (17KJB90002),  Philosophical and Social Science Foundation of Jiangsu Colleges of China (2017SJB0649), Research Start-up Fund in Nanjing Normal University of Special Education and Research Innovation Program for College Graduates of Jiangsu Province (KYLX15_0770).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

We declaimed no conflict of interest and sincerely appreciate Prof. Andrasik and the editor handling this manuscript for their comments and help.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public Administration and Business SchoolHohai UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyJilin Normal UniversitySipingChina
  3. 3.School of Rehabilitation ScienceNanjing Normal University of Special EducationNanjingChina
  4. 4.Interdisciplinary Institutes of Neuroscience and TechnologyZhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina
  5. 5.School of Psychology and Lab of Cognitive NeuroscienceNanjing Normal UniversityNanjingChina
  6. 6.Beijing Key Laboratory of Learning and Cognition, Department of PsychologyCapital Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  7. 7.Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of PsychologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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