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go about solving analytic problems. Those results therefore provide evidence that the processes underlying insight are different from those underlying analysis, and the former might involve the sudden realization of the solution to a problem, as contrasted with consciously working it out.
Conclusion: Gestalt View of Insight in Problem Solving
We have now examined the development of the notion of insight and have examined research support for it. The basic phenomenon of interest was the sudden solution to a problem that came from a direction different from that which the person had been pursuing. Such a leap of insight was assumed to be the result of a restructuring or reorganization of the problem situation, which was assumed to come about in a manner analogous to the way the perception of the object represented in Figure 6.3A undergoes restructuring. In some cases, people are not able to solve problems that should be within their reach. It is assumed in those circumstances that the restructuring needed for solution is blocked by the incorrect structure. We also reviewed research that provided support for several components of the Gestalt view.
The Gestalt analysis has had an important influence on research on thinking and problem solving, as the notions of restructuring, insight, and fixation have led to the belief that there are two different ways to solve problems. One way is based on analysis and experience, and includes the weak and strong methods discussed in the last three chapters; the other is through insight, as a result of the sudden restructuring of a problem, independent of problem-specific experience. The Gestalt psychologists’ emphasis on the potentially negative role of experience—through fixation—has also had a great influence on how modern society in general thinks about problem solving and creative thinking. Familiarity with the Gestalt view has led to a widespread belief that productive problem solving, as well as creative thinking in general, comes about only by breaking away from experience and letting our ideas roam freely. As noted earlier, we have all seen numerous articles and advertisements urging us to think outside the box in order to be productive and creative. This is a direct influence of the Gestalt view on popular thinking: The box that we are urged to get out of is usually a metaphorical box, but this directive began as a literal instruction, as directed toward the square formed by the dots in the Nine-Dot problem.
The Neo-Gestalt View: Heuristic-Based Restructuring in Response to Impasse
In the classic Gestalt view, occurrence of an impasse was assumed to set the stage for a spontaneous restructuring of the situation, as happens with
The Question of Insight in Problem Solving
the reversible cube (see Figure 6.3A). Some researchers have questioned whether the reliance on perceptual processes as explanations for problem solving provides a true explanation of the phenomena involved (e.g., Weisberg & Alba, 1982). Notions of perception can be applied to problem solving only by analogy, and one can raise questions about whether anything has been explained through the use of such analogues. There is also a lack of precision in applying perceptual concepts to problem solving. In response to these perceived deficiencies in classic Gestalt theorizing, several modern researchers (Kaplan & Simon, 1990; Ohlsson, 1992) have attempted to explain restructuring and insight in response to impasse by using concepts adapted from the cognitive perspective. This neo-Gestalt view retains the basic structure of the classic Gestalt view, so it is, as we shall see, significantly different from the cognitive-analytic view of insight to be presented later in the chapter.
In extending the cognitive perspective to restructuring and insight, Kaplan and Simon (1990) and Ohlsson (1992) adopt the familiar notion of heuristically guided search, discussed extensively in Chapter 3. In the earlier discussion of heuristics, we were dealing with methods that serve to direct the search for moves within a problem representation. In the neo-Gestalt analysis of insight, it is proposed that heuristics can also serve as the basis for the problem solver’s search for a new problem representation. That is, heuristics serve as the basis for the person’s switching from one representation of the problem to another. We are now talking about heuristics that serve to guide a search in a space of representations (the space of problem spaces). The attempt to find a new problem representation when one is at impasse could be called a “switch when stuck” (Ohlsson, 1992) or “restructure when stuck” (Kaplan & Simon, 1990) heuristic: One attempts to switch to a new representation (to restructure the problem) when one is making no progress (when one is stuck).
Ohlsson (1992) has emphasized the close relationship between impasses, restructuring, and insight.
Insights occur after the problem-solver has encountered an impasse, i.e., a mental state in which problem-solving has come to a halt; all possibilities seem to have been exhausted and the problem-solver cannot think of any way to proceed. Subjectively, his or her mind is “blank.” Behaviorally, impasses are characterized by the cessation of problem-solving activity. . . . Insight,