The temporal dynamics of insight problem solving – restructuring might not always be sudden

Merim Bilalić, Mario Graf, Nemanja Vaci, Amory H. Danek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Insight problems are likely to trigger an initial, inappropriate mental representation, which needs to be restructured in order to find the solution. Despite the widespread theoretical assumption that this restructuring process happens suddenly, which leads to the typical Aha! experience, the evidence is inconclusive. Among the reasons for this lack of clarity is a reluctance to measure solvers’ subjective experience of the solution process. Here, we overcome previous methodological problems by measuring the dynamics of the solution process using eye movements in combination with the subjective Aha! experience. Our results demonstrate that in a problem that requires restructuring of the initial mental representation, paying progressively more attention to the crucial elements of the problem often preceded the finding of the solution. Most importantly, the sooner solvers started paying attention to the crucial elements, the less sudden and surprising the solution felt to them. The close link between the eye movement patterns and self-reported Aha! experience in the present study underlines the necessity of measuring both the cognitive and the affective components of insight to capture the essence of this phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-37
Number of pages37
JournalThinking & Reasoning
Issue number1
Early online date28 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2021

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