Ignoring deadlines and steering clear of analytical thinking are two factors linked to “Aha!” moments, new psychological research finds.
These Aha! moments or instances of pure insight are more often correct than analytical thinking, the study found.
Professor John Kounios, one of the study’s authors, said:
“Conscious, analytic thinking can sometimes be rushed or sloppy, leading to mistakes while solving a problem.
However, insight is unconscious and automatic — it can’t be rushed.
When the process runs to completion in its own time and all the dots are connected unconsciously, the solution pops into awareness as an Aha! moment.
This means that when a really creative, breakthrough idea is needed, it’s often best to wait for the insight rather than settling for an idea that resulted from analytical thinking.”
The conclusions come from a series of experiments in which people had to solve puzzles that required flashes of insight.
The results showed that insightful solutions were more often correct than analytical solutions.
Dr Carola Salvi, the study’s first author, said:
“The history of great discoveries is full of successful insight episodes, fostering a common belief that when people have an insightful thought, they are likely to be correct.
However, this belief has never been tested and may be a fallacy based on the tendency to report only positive cases and neglect insights that did not work.
Our study tests the hypothesis that the confidence people often have about their insights is justified.”
The researchers found that 94% of insightful answers to linguistic questions were classified as correct.
This compared with 78% of analytical responses.
When given visual puzzles, insightful responses were 78% correct and analytica responses only 42% correct.
Professor Kounios explained the importance of the deadline — or lack of it:
“Deadlines create a subtle — or not so subtle — background feeling of anxiety.
Anxiety shifts one’s thinking from insightful to analytic.
Deadlines are helpful to keep people on task, but if creative ideas are needed, it’s better to have a soft target date.
A drop-dead deadline will get results, but they are less likely to be creative results.”
The study was published in the journal Thinking & Reasoning (Salvi et al., 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Khalid Albaih