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In one study, Bowden and Beeman (1998, Experiment 2) presented a large set of remote-associate problems to each participant, one problem at a time, with 15 seconds to solve each one. Most of the problems could not be solved within this time period, so the experimenters then presented a possible solution word, and the participant was asked to judge whether that word actually solved the problem. Bowden and Beeman hypothesized that problems would be solved more easily if the possible solution word was presented to the right hemisphere, where any remote and hard-to-find associative connections common to the possible solution word and the cue words would be more likely to be activated. Results of the investigation indicated that presentation of the possible solutions words to the right hemisphere facilitated solution more than left-hemisphere presentation. That is, the participants were faster in recognizing the actual solution word when it was presented to the right hemisphere.
Bowden and Beeman interpreted this result as supporting the premise that insight depends on a unique set of processes, since left- versus right-hemisphere presentation differentially affected solution. However, one must be cautious in drawing that conclusion, because Bowden and Beeman did not examine the effects of left- versus right-hemisphere processing on performance on non-insight-based problems. It is necessary to test both insight-based and non-insight-based problems in this experimental situation before one can conclude that the two types of problems are solved through processing in different parts of the brain. However, those results are consistent with the idea that there are differences between insight and analysis as modes of solving problems. It should also be noted that, since the people in this study had intact brains, presenting the words to one hemisphere did not mean that the other hemisphere did not process them. In the intact brain, information is transmitted from one hemisphere to the
The Question of Insight in Problem Solving
other. So, in this context, when one says that information was presented to hemisphere x, it should be taken to mean that the information went to that hemisphere first before it crossed over to the other. In other words, “presenting information to one hemisphere” means that that hemisphere gets a head start on processing the information, not that it is the only hemisphere that processes it.
Several recent studies have attempted to investigate more directly the brain mechanisms involved in insight versus analysis as modes of solving problems, using electroencephalogram (EEG) measures as well as functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI; e.g., Jausovec, 1997; Jung-Beeman et al.,
2004). Those studies have just begun to examine possible differences in the brain regions involved in solving problems through insight versus analysis, so few strong conclusions can be drawn at this time. This is an area that will without doubt be the subject of much investigation in the future.
Working Memory and Planning in Insight versus Analysis
Another method that has been used to differentiate insight and analysis as modes of solving problems is examining the role of working memory and planning in the two types of problems. Lavric and colleagues (Lavric, Forstmeier, & Rippon, 2000) assumed that insight comes about without planning, because the restructuring suddenly occurs to the person. Analysis, on the other hand, centers on planning. As noted in Chapter 3, working memory plays a critical role in carrying out planning, so the researchers hypothesized that working memory should be important in analytic processes but not in insight. The importance of working memory is demonstrated in experiments with a dualtask or divided-attention design, in which the individual is asked to do two things at once. If both of the tasks require working memory, then doing both at the same time should be more difficult than doing them separately. On the other hand, if one of the tasks does not require working memory, then carrying out both at once should be no harder than carrying out either alone.
Lavric and colleagues (2000) had people work on either insight problems (the Candle and Two-String problems; see Figures 6.1B and 6.1G) or a logic problem, while at the same time keeping track of the number of tones presented by a computer. Keeping count of the tones was assumed to require working memory, so, according to the logic just outlined, that task should interfere with performance on the analytic (logic) problem. In contrast, if insight does not involve analysis and planning (and therefore does not require working memory), then counting the tones should not interfere with performance on insight problems. Results supported those predictions, which Lavric and colleagues took to mean that when people solve insight problems they do so without planning, which is different from the way they
Creativity: Understanding Innovation