Insight problems and the Gestalt theory of thinking
Consciousness is not only one event after another; it tends to be organized into a coherent whole.
Gestalt switch: A sudden change in the way information is organized.
Can occur to verbal material as well. (e.g. ducks in a line problem).
Insight problem: a problem that requires a restructuring of the way in which it is represented before it can be solved.
Köhler and the mentality of apes
Köhler (1956): worked with apes
Places chimps in a situation in which they were required to solved a problem
chimp in a cage with a stick, stick and banana outside the cage (how can they reach the banana?)
Result: animal suddenly saw how to solve the problem
Wertheimer and productive thinking
Productive thinking: Thinking that occurs as a result of having a grasp of the general principles that apply in the
particular situation in which you find yourself.
E.g. Altar window problem.
Superficial learning often interferes with the ability to see what is required to solve the problem (and would be
obvious to a more naïve person).
Structurally blind thinking: The tendency to reproduce thinking appropriate for other situations, but not for the
Can sometimes lead us to get the right answer without understanding why.
Dunker and functional fixedness
Interested in the effect that previous experience has on problem-solving.
Best way to solve a problem = rely on past experience, what did you do in similar situations?
Analysis of the situation: Determining what functions the objects in the situation have and how they can be used to
solve the problem.
Functional fixedness: Being able to see that a particular object could perform the function needed to solve a problem;
the tendency for people to think about objects based on the function for which the object was designed.
E.g. 8 coins and a balance, how can you figure out which coin is counterfeit? you’re allowed to use the balance only 3
Finding solutions to problems may require us to overcome functional fixedness.
Maier and the concept of direction
e.g. 9 dots, connect all the dots with only 4 straight lines
Hint: A hint must be consistent with the direction that the person’s thinking is taking, and cannot be useful unless it
responds to a difficulty that the person has already experienced.
No evidence for the Gestalt theory of how problem-solving works because the solution to the problem did not
appear as a whole.
Maier (1931-1968-1970): two-string problem.
Gave participants a hint if they were not able to solve the problem
Result: They could solve the problem, solution appeared suddenly as a whole BUT they did not attribute
the solution to the hint.
Insight is involuntary
Insight problems: solution appears suddenly, without warning
Non-insight problems: solved gradually Metcalfe and Wiebe: Participants should be able to distinguish between the 2 types of problems.
Participants had to solve non-insight problems and had to rate their “feeling of warmth” because they are solved step by
Feeling of warmth: the feeling people might have as they approach the solution to a problem.
Participants should not feel they are getting warmer when solving insight problems.
Result: Feeling of warmth ↗ as they got closer to the solution for non-insight problems.
Participants asked to rank in order a set of problems: able to solve it or not
Feeling of knowing: The feeling a person might have that he/she would be able to solve a particular problem.
Feeling of knowing/warmth reflect judgements that participants make about their own knowledge (example of
Maetacognitive assessments are quite accurate.
Current approaches to insight problems
Progress monitoring theory
Progress monitoring theory: Participants monitor their progress on a problem and when they reach an impasse then
they are open to an insightful solution.
Participants take the most straightforward route to a solution, but invariably leads to failure in insight problems.
They consider alternate possibilities when they reach an impasse= open to insightful solution.
If hint leads to reach impasse more quickly, then easier to get to the solution.
Representational change theory
Representational change theory: Insight requires a change in the way the participant represents the problem.
Two processes central to the achieving of representational change:
1. Constraint relaxation: the removal of assumptions that are blocking problem solution.
2. Chunk decomposition: parts of the problem are seen as belonging together; chunks are separated and thought about
Both promote insight by facilitating the construction of novel representations.
Eye movements are an index of parts of the problems about which the participant is thinking: successful solvers
spend more time looking at parts of the problem requiring constraint relaxation and/or chunk decomposition.
Both theories are not contradictory.
Insight and the brain
Evidence for Anterior cingulate cortex involvement in the insight process.
When participants are given riddles, most cannot come up with the answer, but generate responses they know
to be incorrect. When given the right answer, they reported having an “aha!” experience. Corresponding activity
in the ACC was recorded.
Hippocampus also involved in the insight process: important role in the consolidation of memory.
Insight and sleep