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.
Beeman, M. (1993). Semantic processing in the right hemisphere may contribute to drawing inferences from discourse.Brain & Language,44, 80–120.
Beeman, M. (1998). Coarse semantic coding and discourse comprehension. In M. Beeman & C. Chiarello (Eds.),Right hemisphere language comprehension: Perspectives from cognitive neuroscience (pp. 255–284). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Beeman, M. J., &Bowden, E. M. (2000). The right hemisphere maintains solution-related activation for yet-to-be-solved insight problems.Memory & Cognition,28, 1231–1241.
Beeman, M. J., Bowden, E.M., &Gernsbacher, M. A. (2000). Right and left hemisphere cooperation for drawing predictive and coherence inferences during normal story comprehension.Brain & Language,71, 310–336.
Beeman, M., &Chiarello, C. (1998).Right hemisphere language comprehension: Perspectives from cognitive neuroscience. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Beeman, M., Friedman, R. B., Grafman, J., Perez, E., Diamond, S., &Lindsay, M. B. (1994). Summation priming and coarse semantic coding in the right hemisphere.Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience,6, 26–45.
Bihrle, A. M., Brownell, H. H., Powelson, J. A., &Gardner, H. (1986). Comprehension of humorous and non-humorous materials by left and right brain-damaged patients.Brain & Cognition,5, 399–411.
Bottini, G., Corcoran, R., Sterzi, R., Paulescu, E., Schenone, P., Scarpa, P., Frackowiak, R. S. J., &Frith, C. D. (1994). The role of the right hemisphere in the interpretation of figurative aspects of language: A positron emission tomography activation study.Brain,117, 1241–1253.
Bowden, E. M. (1997). The effect of reportable and unreportable hints on anagram solution and the Aha! experience.Consciousness & Cognition,6, 545–573.
Bowden, E.M., &Beeman, M. J. (1998). Getting the right idea: Semantic activation in the right hemisphere may help solve insight problems.Psychological Science,9, 435–440.
Bowden, E. M., & Jung-Beeman, M. (in press). Compound remote associate problems.Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers.
Bowers, K. S., Regehr, G., Balthazard, C., &Parker, K. (1990). Intuition in the context of discovery.Cognitive Psychology,22, 72–110.
Brownell, H.H., Michel, D., Powelson, J.A., &Gardner, H. (1983). Surprise but not coherence: Sensitivity to verbal humor in right hemisphere patients.Brain & Language,18, 20–27.
Brownell, H. H., Potter, H. H., Bihrle, A. M., &Gardner, H. (1986). Inference deficits in right brain-damaged patients.Brain & Language,29, 310–321.
Brownell, H.H., Potter, H.H., Michelow, D., &Gardner, H. (1984). Sensitivity to lexical denotation and connotation in brain-damaged patients: A double dissociation?Brain & Language,22, 310–321.
Burgess, C., &Simpson, G. (1988). Hemispheric processing of ambiguous words.Brain & Language,33, 86–104.
Chiarello, C. (1998). On codes of meaning and the meaning of codes: Semantic access and retrieval within and between hemispheres. In M. Beeman & C. Chiarello (Eds.),Right hemisphere language comprehension: Perspectives from cognitive neuroscience (pp. 141–160). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Chiarello, C., Burgess, C., Richards, L., &Pollock, A. (1990). Semantic and associative priming in the cerebral hemispheres: Some words do, some words don’t, … sometimes, some places.Brain & Language,38, 75–104.
Cohen, J., &Cohen, P. (1983).Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Connor, L. T., Balota, D. A., &Neely, J. H. (1992). On the relation between feeling of knowing and lexical decision: Persistent subthreshold activation or topic familiarity?Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,18, 544–554.
Davidson, J. E. (1995). The suddenness of insight. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.),The nature of insight (pp. 125–156). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Dominowski, R. L., &Dallob, P. I. (1995). Insight and problem solving. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.),The nature of insight (pp. 33–62). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Dorfman, J., Shames, V. A., &Kilhstrom, J. F. (1996). Intuition, incubation, and insight: Implicit cognition in problem solving. In G. Underwood (Ed.),Implicit cognition (pp. 257–296). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Faust, M., &Chiarello, C. (1998). Sentence context and lexical ambiguity resolution by the two hemispheres.Neuropsychologia,36, 827–836.
Faust, M., Kravetz, S., &Babkoff, H. (1993a). Hemisphericity and top-down processing of language.Brain & Language,44, 1–18.
Faust, M., Kravetz, S., &Babkoff, H. (1993b). Hemispheric specialization or reading habits: Evidence from lexical decision research with Hebrew words and sentences.Brain & Language,44, 254–263.
Faust, M. E., &Gernsbacher, M.A. (1996). Cerebral mechanisms for suppression of inappropriate information during sentence comprehension.Brain & Language,53, 234–259.
Fiore, S. M., &Schooler, J. W. (1998). Right hemisphere contributions to creative problem solving: Converging evidence for divergent thinking. In M. Beeman & C. Chiarello (Eds.),Right hemisphere language comprehension: Perspectives from cognitive neuroscience (pp. 349–371). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Gick, M. L., &Lockhart, R. S. (1995). Cognitive and affective components of insight. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.),The nature of insight (pp. 197–228). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Koivisto, M. (1997). Time course of semantic activation in the cerebral hemispheres.Neuropsychologia,35, 497–504.
Maier, N.R. F. (1931). Reasoning in humans II: The solution of a problem and its appearance in consciousness.Journal of Comparative Psychology,12, 181–194.
Mednick, S. A. (1962). The associative basis of the creative process.Psychological Review,69, 220–232.
Metcalfe, J. (1986a). Feeling of knowing in memory and problem solving.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,12, 288–294.
Metcalfe, J. (1986b). Premonitions of insight predict impending error.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,12, 623–634.
Metcalfe, J. &Wiebe, D. (1987). Intuition in insight and noninsight problem solving.Memory & Cognition,15, 238–246.
Nakagawa, A. (1991). Role of anterior and posterior attention networks in hemispheric asymmetries during lexical decisions.Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience,3, 315–321.
Neely, J. H. (1991). Semantic priming effects in visual word recognition: A selective review of current findings and theories. In D. Besner & J. W. Humphreys (Eds.),Basic processes in reading: Visual word recognition (pp. 264–336). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Ohlsson, S. (1992). Information-processing explanations of insight and related phenomena. In M. Keane & K. Gilhooley (Eds.),Advances in the psychology of thinking (pp. 1–44). London: Harvester-Wheatsheaf.
Robertson, D.A., Gernsbacher, M.A., Guidotti, S. J., Robertson, R.R.W., Irwin, W., Mock, B. J., &Campana, M.E. (2000). Functional neuroanatomy of the cognitive process of mapping during discourse comprehension.Psychological Science,11, 255–260.
Schooler, J. W., Fallshore, M., &Fiore, S. M. (1995). Epilogue: Putting insight into perspective. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.),The nature of insight(pp.559–587). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Schooler, J.W., &Melcher, J. (1995). The ineffability of insight. In S. M. Smith & T. B. Ward (Eds.),The creative cognition approach (pp. 97–133). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Schooler, J.W., Ohlsson, S., &Brooks, K. (1993). Thoughts beyond words: When language overshadows insight.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,122, 166–183.
Seifert, C. M., Meyer, D. E., Davidson, N., Patalano, A. L., &Yaniv, I. (1995). Demystification of cognitive insight: Opportunistic assimilation and the prepared-mind perspective. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.),The nature of insight (pp. 65–124). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Smith, S. M. (1995). Getting into and out of mental ruts: A theory of fixation, incubation, and insight. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.),The nature of insight (pp. 229–252). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
St. George, M. Kutas, M., Martinez, A., &Sereno, M. I. (1999). Semantic integration in reading: Engagement of the right hemisphere during discourse processing.Brain,122, 1317–1325.
Titone, D. (1998). Hemispheric differences in context sensitivity during lexical ambiguity resolution.Brain & Language,65, 361–394.
Winner, E., &Gardner, H. (1977). The comprehension of metaphor in brain-damaged patients.Brain,100, 719–727.
Yaniv, I., &Meyer, D. E. (1987). Activation and metacognition of inaccessible stored information: Potential bases for incubation effects in problem solving.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,13, 187–205.
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
About this article
Cite this article
Bowden, E.M., Jung-Beeman, M. Aha! Insight experience correlates with solution activation in the right hemisphere. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 10, 730–737 (2003). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03196539
- Target Word
- Left Hemisphere
- Right Hemisphere
- Solution Priming
- Semantic Activation