“Aha” effects in the generation of pictures


An “aha” effect in memory was first reported by Auble, Franks, and Soraci (1979). They demonstrated that recall was greater for sentences that were initially incomprehensible but which were eventually comprehended, as compared with sentences that were understood from the outset. The present studies extend this “aha” effect to memory for pictorial stimuli. In Experiment 1, a recall advantage for pictures encoded by connecting the dots as compared with those encoded by tracing or visual scanning occurred only in the absence of foreknowledge of the picture (i.e., an “aha” effect). In Experiment 2, we replicated this finding and obtained evidence that conceptually based, verbal foreknowledge does not function in a similar manner as does pictorial foreknowledge in suppressing the “aha” recall advantage. These results place important constraints on previous research on generation effects for visual stimuli and attest to the cross-modal generalizability of the “aha” effect.


  1. Auble, P. M., Franks, J. J., &Soraci, S. A. J. (1979). Effort toward comprehension: Elaboration or “aha!”?Memory & Cognition,7, 426–434.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bruner, J. C., &Potter, M. C. (1964). Interference in visual recognition.Science,144, 424–425.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Engelkamp, J., Zimmer, H. D., Mohr, G., &Sellen, O. (1994). Memory of self-performed tasks: Self-performing during recognition.Memory & Cognition,22, 34–39.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Glisky, E. L., &Rabinowitz, J. C. (1985). Enhancing the generation effect through repetition of operations.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,11, 193–205.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Graf, P. (1982). The memorial consequences of generation and transformation.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,21, 539–548.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Jacoby, L. M. (1978). On interpreting the effects of repetition: Solving a problem versus remembering a solution.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,17, 649–667.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Johns, E. J., &Swanson, L. G. (1988). The generation effect with nonwords.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,14, 180–190.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. McDaniel, M. A., Waddill, P. J., &Einstein, G. O. (1988). A contextual account of the generation effect: A three-factor theory.Journal of Memory & Language,27, 521–536.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. McElroy, L. A. (1987). The generation effect with homographs: Evidence for postgeneration processing.Memory & Cognition,15, 148–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. McNamara, D. S., &Healy, A. F. (1995). A procedural explanation of the generation effect: The use of an operand retrieval strategy for multiplication and addition problems.Journal of Memory & Language,34, 399–416.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Morris, C. D., Bransford, J. D., &Franks, J. J. (1977). Levels of processing versus transfer appropriate processing.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,16, 519–533.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Peynircioĝlu, Z. F. (1989). The generation effect with pictures and nonsense figures.Acta Psychologica,70, 153–160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Roenker, D. L., Wenger, S. K., Thompson, C. P., &Watkins, B. (1978). Depth of processing: When the principal of congruity fails.Memory & Cognition,6, 288–295.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Slamecka, N. J., &Graf, P. (1978). The generation effect: Delineation of a phenomenon.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning & Memory,4, 592–604.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Smith, R. W., &Healy, A. F. (1998). The time-course of the generation effect.Memory & Cognition,26, 135–142.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Soraci, S. A., Carlin, M. T., Chechile, R. A., Franks, J. J., Wills, T., &Watanabe, T. (1999). Encoding variability and cuing in generative processing.Journal of Memory & Language,41, 541–559.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Soraci, S. A., Franks, J. J., Bransford, J. D., Chechile, R. A., Belli, R. F., Carr, M., &Carlin, M. (1994). Incongruous item generation effects: A multiple-cue perspective.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,20, 67–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Theodore W. Wills.

Additional information

This research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grants KO4IIDOO921 and RO1 HD23682 awarded to Tufts University and the E. K. Shriver Center for Mental Retardation, Inc., respectively. This work was also supported in part by the Department of Mental Retardation of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Contract 100220023SC).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wills, T.W., Soraci, S.A., Chechile, R.A. et al. “Aha” effects in the generation of pictures. Memory & Cognition 28, 939–948 (2000). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03209341

Download citation


  • Generation Effect
  • Free Recall
  • Real Picture
  • Pictorial Stimulus
  • Picture Condition