Sudden verbal insights arise from distinct brain operations that focus attention and facilitate access to word knowledge, a new investigation suggests.
A team led by John Kounios of Drexel University in Philadelphia used electric sensors on people's scalps and functional magnetic resonance imaging to track brain activity in 44 volunteers. The researchers took measurements in the seconds while each participant contemplated solutions to word problems. For each problem, volunteers viewed three words—say, pine, crab, and sauce—and tried to think of another word—such as apple—that could be combined with each of them to form larger words.
Participants solved nearly half of such problems correctly. During the experiment, they reported when solutions came to them in sudden, "Aha!" flashes or as a result of slow deliberations.