Download (direct link):
The results reviewed so far raise several problems for the Gestalt analysis of insight in problem solving. First, Birch (1945) and Harlow (1949) demonstrated that, even in simple problems, behaving with insight may
The Question of Insight in Problem Solving
be a function of detailed problem-specific knowledge. Performance on the Nine-Dot problem is also greatly affected when individuals are provided with problem-specific information, in the form of practice in solving problems similar to the Nine-Dot problem, or through instructions that provide information relevant to construction of the solution. In addition, the Nine-Dot problem may be difficult not because people are fixated on the square of the dots but because most of us are not capable on our own of carrying out the complex planning that the problem demands.
Analysis as the Basis for Aha! Experiences
Several other studies have presented evidence that analytic processes are involved in production of Aha! experiences and also in bringing about restructuring in problem solving. We now turn to those studies.
Perkins’s Studies of Insight
Perkins (1981) showed that one can have an Aha! experience during problem solving as the result of analysis of the problem. He presented the Antique Coin problem (see Figure 6.1C) to individuals, and when someone solved it, Perkins asked him or her to provide what could be called an immediate retrospective protocol: The solver was to report immediately after solution on the thought processes that had led up to it. I noted in Chapter 2 that one must be cautious about self-reports as the basis for theorizing about the creative thought process, which raises the question of how Perkins ensured that he could rely on such reports in analyzing insight in problem solving. First, the reports were obtained immediately after problem solution, which means that the probability of error was minimized. Second, the participants were asked to report on the thoughts that led up to the solution; they were not asked to interpret or make judgments about what had happened. As noted in Chapter 3, careful use of such reports does not seem to change the thought processes in any significant way (Ericsson & Simon, 1996). In addition, Perkins gave his participants practice in making those reports, which also helps make them reliable.
As noted earlier, Schooler and colleagues (1993) have demonstrated verbal overshadowing of insight: That is, they found that producing verbal protocols interferes with solution of insight problems. That result would seem to preclude the use of verbal protocols in the study of processes underlying restructuring and insight. Without getting ahead of the logic of the argument, I can point out that the verbal overshadowing effect has been difficult to replicate (Fleck & Weisberg, 2004, 2006), so, for the time being, I will assume that verbal protocols are useful in the study of insight.
Two of Perkins’s retrospective reports are presented in Table 6.4. The two
Creativity: Understanding Innovation
Table 6.4 Perkins’s two protocols on Antique Coin problem (Perkins, 1981) Abbott
1. Couldn’t figure out what was wrong after reading through once.
2. Decided to read problem over again
3. Asked himself, do architects dig up coins? Decided yes.
4. Asked himself, could the problem have something to do with bronze? Decided no.
5. Saw the word marked. This was suspicious. Marked could mean many different things.
6. Decided to see what followed in the text.
7. Saw 544 B.C. (Imagined grungy coin in the dirt; had an impression of ancient times.)
8. Immediately realized—“it snapped”—that B.C. was the flaw.
1. Thought perhaps they didn’t mark coins with the date then.
2. Thought they didn’t date at all—too early for calendar. (Image of backward man hammering 544 on each little bronze coin.)
3. Focused on 544 B.C.
4. Looked at B.C.
5. Realized “B.C.—that means Before Christ.”
6. Rationalized that it couldn’t be before Christ since Christ wasn’t born yet.
7. Saw no possible way to anticipate when Christ was going to be born.
8. Concluded “Fake!”
people solved the problem differently, with one (whom Perkins called Abbott) reporting that the solution “just snapped” together in a small Aha! or leap of insight; the other (Binet) worked out the solution through analysis, in a series of steps. In other words, Binet solved the problem through the weak method of reasoning through the information and what it implied—an analytic process. When Perkins examined the reports further, however, he concluded that the thought processes carried out by Abbott and Binet were in actuality very similar, which raised the possibility that Abbott’s leap of insight was also the result of an analytic thinking process. First, both Abbott and Binet focused on, or recognized, the date as the crucial piece of information. Second, Abbott’s “leap” turns out to have required only a couple of steps of reasoning on Binet’s part; that is, the insight process turns out not to have done much cognitive work. What was required was that the thinker realize the contradiction in the coin maker’s knowing that Christ would be born at some later date. Perkins pointed out that we often experience such realizations in our ordinary cognitive activities. For example, when you discuss politics with a friend with whom you differ, you and your