What about False Insights? Deconstructing the Aha! Experience along Its Multiple Dimensions for Correct and Incorrect Solutions Separately

Front Psychol. 2017 Jan 20:7:2077. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.02077. eCollection 2016.


The subjective Aha! experience that problem solvers often report when they find a solution has been taken as a marker for insight. If Aha! is closely linked to insightful solution processes, then theoretically, an Aha! should only be experienced when the correct solution is found. However, little work has explored whether the Aha! experience can also accompany incorrect solutions ("false insights"). Similarly, although the Aha! experience is not a unitary construct, little work has explored the different dimensions that have been proposed as its constituents. To address these gaps in the literature, 70 participants were presented with a set of difficult problems (37 magic tricks), and rated each of their solutions for Aha! as well as with regard to Suddenness in the emergence of the solution, Certainty of being correct, Surprise, Pleasure, Relief, and Drive. Solution times were also used as predictors for the Aha!

Experience: This study reports three main findings: First, false insights exist. Second, the Aha! experience is multidimensional and consists of the key components Pleasure, Suddenness and Certainty. Third, although Aha! experiences for correct and incorrect solutions share these three common dimensions, they are also experienced differently with regard to magnitude and quality, with correct solutions emerging faster, leading to stronger Aha! experiences, and higher ratings of Pleasure, Suddenness, and Certainty. Solution correctness proffered a slightly different emotional coloring to the Aha! experience, with the additional perception of Relief for correct solutions, and Surprise for incorrect ones. These results cast some doubt on the assumption that the occurrence of an Aha! experience can serve as a definitive signal that a true insight has taken place. On the other hand, the quantitative and qualitative differences in the experience of correct and incorrect solutions demonstrate that the Aha! experience is not a mere epiphenomenon. Strong Aha! experiences are clearly, but not exclusively linked to correct solutions.

Keywords: aha experience; confidence; false insights; insight; phenomenology; pleasure; problem solving; suddenness.