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, 80 (6), 1059-1074

Generation and the Subjective Feeling of "Aha!" Are Independently Related to Learning From Insight

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Generation and the Subjective Feeling of "Aha!" Are Independently Related to Learning From Insight

Jasmin M Kizilirmak et al. Psychol Res.

Abstract

It has been proposed that sudden insight into the solutions of problems can enhance long-term memory for those solutions. However, the nature of insight has been operationalized differently across studies. Here, we examined two main aspects of insight problem-solving-the generation of a solution and the subjective "aha!" experience-and experimentally evaluated their respective relationships to long-term memory formation (encoding). Our results suggest that generation (generated solution vs. presented solution) and the "aha!" experience ("aha!" vs. no "aha!") are independently related to learning from insight, as well as to the emotional response towards understanding the solution during encoding. Moreover, we analyzed the relationship between generation and the "aha!" experience and two different kinds of later memory tests, direct (intentional) and indirect (incidental). Here, we found that the generation effect was larger for indirect testing, reflecting more automatic retrieval processes, while the relationship with the occurrence of an "aha!" experience was somewhat larger for direct testing. Our results suggest that both the generation of a solution and the subjective experience of "aha!" indicate processes that benefit long-term memory formation, though differently. This beneficial effect is possibly due to the intrinsic reward associated with sudden comprehension and the detection of schema-consistency, i.e., that novel information can be easily integrated into existing knowledge.

Conflict of interest statement

Compliance with ethical standards Ethical considerations The manuscript does not report clinical studies or patient data. The study was approved by the local ethics committee of the University Clinic of the Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg and is in line with the declaration of Helsinki of 2008.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
a Encoding phase In our incidental encoding task, participants were instructed to try to identify the motifs of the images. If identified, the motif should be named orally. If not identified, the original grayscale image was presented and participants should name the motif to avoid memory differences due to the oral naming of the image. Whether successfully solved or not, an “aha!”/no “aha!” decision followed, after which participants rated their feeling during comprehension on a 5-point scale. b Testing phase The testing phase consisted of an indirect memory test (solving old and new items) and a direct memory test (old/new recognition)
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Relationship of GENERATION and AHA with the emotional response. Successful generation and the subjective “aha!” response were independently associated with a relatively more positive rating than no generation and no “aha!”
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Relationship of GENERATION and AHA to memory performance. a Solution rate of new items and old items split for generation and “aha!” during encoding. b Recognition memory performance, i.e., false alarm rate and hit rate split for generation and “aha!” during encoding. Generation and “aha!” were associated with higher solution rates of old items and higher hit rates. For both measures of memory these relationships were independent. Error bars represent 95 % confidence intervals, for within-subjects design corrected according to Masson and Loftus (2003)
Fig. 4
Fig. 4
Relationship between item difficulty and “aha!” frequency. a RT for generated items × aha rate. The rate of “aha!” responses did not correlate with RTs for generated solutions. b Generation rate × aha rate. The “aha!” rate did correlate negatively with the generation rate during testing (r = −0.128). However, considerable ceiling effects, as visible in b, show that the relationship should be interpreted with caution
Fig. 5
Fig. 5
Learning effect for easy and difficult items as measured by the generation rate at test for old minus new items. There was no significant difference in the size of the learning effect for difficult compared to easy items

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