Psikhologicheskie Issledovaniya • ISSN 2075-7999
peer-reviewed • open access journal


Moroshkina N.V., Ammalainen A.V., Savina A.I. Catching up with insight: modern approaches and meth-ods of measuring insight in cognitive psychology

Full text in Russian: Морошкина Н.В., Аммалайнен А.В., Савина А.И. В погоне за инсайтом: современные подходы и методы измерения инсайта в когнитивной психологии

Saint Petersburg State University, Saint Petersburg, Russia

About author
Suggested citation

The discussion of the insight phenomenon has been ongoing for over a hundred years. Emergence of a new trend in research indicates that the criteria for the insight definition have been revisited. As opposed to the traditional research focusing on the cognitive component of insight, modern researchers shifted attention towards its affective component (the Aha! experience). However, multiplicity of methods for estimation of insight makes it difficult to compare experimental results and to understand the link between the two components. In this paper we discuss disadvantages of traditional definition of insight and analyze new methods for the cognitive and affective components to be estimated. Additionally, results of the study applying these methods are covered.  Based on the analysis three approaches to the definition of insight were identified. The first approach defines insight as cognitive mechanism with the aha-experience performing as an indicator of this mechanism to be involved in problem solving process. The second approach assumes that aha-experience, along with cognitive processes, participates in the problem-solving process; thereby, insight can be designated as a cognitive-affective phenomenon. Within the third approach insight represents a metacognitive phenomenon. We believe that insight relates to the monitoring and assessing the solution found, not the solution process' specifics. More research on cognitive and affective components of insight is needed in order to clarify the nature of the connection between them.

Keywords: insight, aha-experience, restructuring, subjective reports, problem solving

Full text in Russian >>



The reported study was funded by RFBR, project number 20-013-00532.

Cyrillic letters are transliterated according to BSI standards. The titles are given in author’s translation.

Ammalainen A.V., Moroshkina N.V. The effect of true and false unreportable hints on anagram problem solving, restructuring, and the аha-experience. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 2020. DOI:10.1080/20445911.

Ammalainen A.V., Moroshkina N.V. When an Error Leads to Confidence: False Insight and Feeling of Knowing in Anagram Solving. Psychology. Journal of the Higher School of Economics, 2019, 16(4), 774–783. DOI:10.17323/1813-8918-2019-4-774-783.

Ardislamov V.V., Spiridonov V.F., Loginov N.I. In: Cognitive Science in Moscow: New Research. Proceedings of the 5th Conference, 2019. Moscow: Buki Vedi, 2019. Рp. 64–69. (in Russian)

Ash I., Cushen P.J., Wiley J. Obstacles in Investigating the Role of Restructuring in Insightful Problem Solving. The Journal of Problem Solving, 2009, 2(2), 6–41. doi: 10.7771/1932-6246.1056.

Aziz-Zadeh L., Kaplan J.T., Iacoboni M. Aha: The neural correlates of verbal insight solutions. Human Brain Mapping, 2009, 30(3), 908–916. DOI:10.1002/hbm.20554.

Becker M., Sommer T., Kühn S. Verbal insight revisited: fMRI evidence for early processing in bilateral insulae for solutions with аha-experience shortly after trial onset. Human Brain Mapping, 2020 Jan; 41(1), 30–45. DOI:10.1002/hbm.24785.

Becker M., Kühn S., Sommer T. Verbal insight revisited – dissociable neurocognitive processes underlying solutions accompanied by an аha-experience with and without prior restructuring. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 2020, 1–26. DOI:10.1080/20445911.2020.1819297.

Bilalić M., Graf M., Vaci N., Danek A.H. When the solution is on the doorstep: Better solving performance, but diminished аha-experience for chess experts on the mutilated checkerboard problem. Cognitive Science, 2019a, 43(8), 1–17. DOI:10.1111/cogs.12771.

Bilalić M., Graf M., Vaci N., Danek A.H. The temporal dynamics of insight problem solving – restructuring might not always be sudden. Thinking & Reasoning, 2019b. DOI:10.1080/13546783.2019.1668479.

Bowden E.M., Beeman M.J. Getting the right idea: Semantic activation in the right hemisphere may help solve insight problems. Psychological science, 1998, 9(6), 435–40. DOI:10.1111/1467-9280.00082.

Bowden E., Grunewald K. Whose insight is it anyway? In F. Vallee-Tourangeau (Ed.), Insight: On the origins of new ideas. Pр. 28–50. London: Routledge, 2018.

Bowden E., Jung-Beeman M., Fleck J.I., Kounios J. New approaches to demystifying insight. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2005, 9(7), 322–328. DOI:10.1016/j.tics.2005.05.012.

Bowden E.M., Jung-Beeman M. Normative data for 144 compound remote associate problems. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, and Computers, 2003, 35(4), 634–639. DOI:10.3758/BF03195543.

Bowden E.M. The effect of reportable and unreportable hints on anagram solution and the аha-experience. Consciousness and Cognition, 1997, 6, 545–573. DOI:10.1006/ccog.1997.0325.

Chein J.M., Weisberg R.W. Working memory and insight in verbal problems: Analysis of compound remote associates. Memory & cognition, 2014, 42(1), 67–83. DOI:10.3758/s13421-013-0343-4.

Chuderski A., Jastrzębski J., Kroczek B., Kucwaj H., Ociepka M. Metacognitive experience on Raven’s matrices versus insight problems. Metacognition and Learning, 2020, 27, 1–21. DOI:10.1007/s11409-020-09236-6.

Chuderski A., Jastrzȩbski J. Working memory facilitates insight instead of hindering it: comment on DeCaro, Van Stockum, and Wieth (2016). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 2017, 43, 1993–2004. DOI:10.1037/xlm0000409.

Cranford E.A., Moss J. Is insight always the same? A protocol analysis of insight in compound remote associate problems. The Journal of Problem Solving. 2012, 4(2), 128–153. DOI:10.7771/1932-6246.1129.

Cushen P.J., Wiley J. Cues to solution, restructuring patterns, and reports of insight in creative problem solving. Consciousness and Cognition. 2012, 21(3), 1166–1175. DOI:10.1016/j.concog.2012.03.013.

Danek A., Fraps T., von Müller A., Grothe B., Öllinger M. Working wonders? Investigating insight with magic tricks. Cognition, 2014, 130, 174–185. DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2013.11.003.

Danek A.H., Fraps T., von Müller A., Grothe B., Öllinger M. Aha-experiences leave a mark: facilitated recall of insight solutions. Psychological Research, 2013, 77(5), 659–669. DOI:10.1007/s00426-012-0454-8.

Danek A.H., Salvi C. Moment of truth: Why аha-experiences are correct. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 2018, 54(2), 484–486. DOI:10.1002/jocb.380.

Danek A.H., Wiley J., Öllinger M. Solving classical insight problems without аha-experience: 9 Dot, 8 Coin, and Matchstick Arithmetic Problems. The Journal of Problem Solving, 2016, 9(1), 47–57. DOI:10.7771/1932-6246.1183.

Danek A.H., Wiley J. What about false insights? Deconstructing the аha-experience along its multiple dimensions for correct and incorrect solutions separately. Frontiers in Psychology, 2017, 7, 1–14. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.02077.

Danek A.H., Wiley J. What causes the insight memory advantage? Cognition, 2020, 104411, DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2020.104411.

Danek A.H., Williams J., Wiley J. Closing the gap: connecting sudden representational change to the subjective Aha! experience in insightful problem solving. Psychological research, 2020, 84, 111–119. DOI:10.1007/s00426-018-0977-8.

De Bono E. The mechanism of mind. New York: Penguin, 1969.

DeCaro M.S., Van Stockum C.A., Wieth M.B. When higher working memory capacity hinders insight. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 2016, 42, 39–49. DOI:10.1037/xlm0000152.

Dunker K. On problem-solving. Psychological Monographs, 1945, 58(5), 1–113.

Ellis J.J., Glaholt M.G., Reingold E.M. Eye movements reveal solution knowledge prior to insight. Consciousness and cognition, 2011, 20(3), 768–776. DOI:10.1016/j.concog.2010.12.007.

Ellis J.J., Reingold E.M. The Einstellung effect in anagram problem solving: evidence from eye movements. Frontiers in psychology, 2014, 5, 679. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00679.

Ericsson K.A., Simon H.A. Protocol analysis: Verbal reports as data. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984.

Fedor A., Szathmáry E., Öllinger M. Problem solving stages in the five square problem. Frontiers in Psychology, 2015, 6, 1050. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01050.

Filyaeva O.V., Korovkin S.Yu. In: Cognitive Science in Moscow: New Research. Proceedings of the Conference, 2015. Moscow: Buki Vedi, 2015, pp. 444–449. (in Russian)

Fleck J.I., Weisberg R.W. Insight versus analysis: Evidence for diverse methods in problem solving. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 2013, 25(4), 436–63. DOI:10.1080/20445911.2013.779248.

Fox M.C., Ericsson K.A., Best R. Do procedures for verbal reporting of thinking have to be reactive? A meta-analysis and recommendations for best reporting methods. Psychological Bulletin, 2011, 137(2), 316–344. DOI:10.1037/a0021663.

Gershkovich V.A., Moroshkina N.V., Fedosova V.I. In: Tvorchestvo v sovremennom mire: chelovek, obshchestvo, tekhnologii. Proceedings of the Conference, Moscow, 2020. Moscow: Institute of Psychology of Russian Academy of Sciences, 2020, pp. 178–179 (in Russian).

Gick M.L., Lockhart R.S. Cognitive and affective components of insight. In: Sternberg R.R., Davidson J.E. (Eds.), The Nature of Insight. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995. Pр. 197–228.

Gilhooly J., Murphy P. Differentiating insight from non-insight problems. Thinking & Reasoning, 2005, 11(3), 279–302. DOI:10.1080/13546780442000187.

Hattori M., Sloman S.A., Orita R. Effects of subliminal hints on insight problem solving. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 2013, 20(4), 790–797. DOI:10.3758/s13423-013-0389-0.

Hill G., Kemp S.M. Heart rate differences in insight and non-insight problem solving. British Psychological Society, Cognitive Psychology Section, 2016.

Ishikawa T., Toshima M., Mogi K. How and When? Metacognition and Solution Timing Characterize an Аha-experience of Object Recognition in Hidden Figures. Frontiers in Psychology, 2019, 10, 1023. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01023.

Jones G. Testing two cognitive theories of insight. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2003, 29, 1017–1027, DOI:10.1037/0278-7393.29.5.1017.

Jung-Beeman M., Bowden E.M., Haberman J., Frymiare J.L., Arambel-Liu S., Greenblatt R. Neural Activity When People Solve Verbal Problems with Insight. PLoS Biology, 2004, 2(4), e97, DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020097.

Kaplan C.A., Simon H.A. In search of insight. Cognitive Psychology, 1990, 22(3), 374–419. DOI:10.1016/0010-0285(90)90008-R.

Kizilirmak J., Silva J., Imamoglu F., Richardson-Klavehn A. Generation and the subjective feeling of «aha» are independently related to learning from insight. Psychological Research, 2016b, 80(6), 1059–107. DOI:10.1007/s00426-015-0697-2.

Kizilirmak J., Wiegmann B., Richardson-Klavehn A. Problem Solving as an Encoding Task: A Special Case of the Generation Effect. Journal of Problem Solving, 2016a, 9, 59–76. DOI:10.7771/1932-6246.1182.

Knoblich G., Ohlsson S., Haider H., Rhenius D. Constraint relaxation and chunk decomposition in insight problem solving. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, memory, and cognition, 1999, 25(6), 1534–1555. DOI:10.1037/0278-7393.25.6.1534.

Knoblich G., Ohlsson S., Raney G.E. An eye movement study of insight problem solving. Memory & cognition, 2001, 29(7), 1000–1009. DOI:10.3758/BF03195762.

Köhler W. The Mentality of Apes. Routledge and Kegan, London, 1925.

Korovkin S., Savinova A., Padalka J., Zhelezova A. Beautiful mind: grouping of actions into mental schemes leads to a full insight Aha! experience. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 2020, DOI: 10.1080/20445911.2020.1847124.

Kounios J., Beeman M. The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight. Annual Review of Psychology, 2014, 65(1), 71–93. DOI:10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115154.

Kounios J., Fleck J.I., Green D.L., Payne L., Stevenson J.L., Bowden E.M., Jung-Beeman M. The origins of insight in resting-state brain activity. Neuropsychologia, 2008, 46(1), 281–91. DOI:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.07.013.

Kounios J., Frymiare J.L., Bowden E.M., Fleck J.I., Subramaniam K., Parrish T.B., Jung-Beeman M. The prepared mind: Neural activity prior to problem presentation predicts subsequent solution by sudden insight. Psychological science, 2006, 17(10), 882–90. DOI:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01798.x.

Lapteva E.M. Eye movements as indicator of solution knowledge in anagram solving. Experimental Psychology (Russia), 2016, 9(3), 41–53. DOI:10.17759/exppsy.2016090304. (in Russian)

Laukkonen R., Ingledew D., Tangen J. Getting a grip on insight: An embodied measure of Aha! and metacognition during problem solving. Retrieved from, 2018b. DOI:10.17605/OSF.IO/FYHWB.

Laukkonen R., Schooler J., Tangen J. M. Eureka Heuristics: How feelings of insight signal the quality of a new idea. Retrieved from, 2018a, DOI:10.17605/OSF.IO/EZ3TN.

Laukkonen R.E., Kaveladze B.T., Tangen J.M., Schooler J.W. The dark side of Eureka: Artificially induced Aha moments make facts feel true. Cognition, 2020, 196, 104–122, DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104122.

Lazareva N.Yu., Chistopolskaya A.V., Akatova N.Yu. In: Cognitive Science in Moscow: New Research. Proceedings of the 5th Conference, 2019. Moscow: Buki Vedi, 2019. Рp. 301-305. (in Russian)

MacGregor J.N., Ormerod T.C., Chronicle E.P. Information processing and insight: a process model of performance on the nine-dot and related problems. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 2001, 27(1), 176. DOI: 10.1037/0278-7393.27.1.176.

Maier N. R. Reasoning in humans. II. The solution of a problem and its appearance in consciousness. Journal of comparative Psychology, 1931, 12(2), 181, DOI:10.1037/h0071361.

Metcalfe J., Wiebe D. Intuition in insight and noninsight problem solving. Memory & cognition, 1987, 15(3), 238-246. DOI:10.3758/BF03197722.

Moroshkina N.V., Ammalainen A.V. From insight to аha-experience: a new theoretical framework for investigation insightful problem solving. Siberian journal of psychology. (in Russian, under review)

Moroshkina N.V., Ivanchei I.I., Karpov A.D. and Ovchinnikova I.V. In: Sovremennye issledovaniya intellekta i tvorchestva. Moscow: Institute of Psychology of Russian Academy of Sciences, 2015, pp. 65–79. (in Russian)

Newell A., Simon H.A. Human problem solving. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1972.

Ohlsson S. Deep learning: How the mind overrides experience. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Ohlsson S. Information-processing explanations of insight and related phenomena. Advances in the psychology of thinking, 1992, 1, 1–44.

Öllinger M., Knoblich G. Psychological research on insight problem solving. In: H. Atmanspacher and H. Primas (Eds.), Wolfgang Pauli's philosophical ideas and contemporary science. Berlin: Springer, 2009. Рp. 275–300.

Poincaré H. Mathematical creation. The Monist, 1910, 20(3), 321–335.

Poincaré H. Science and Method, trans. Maitland, London, Thomas Nelson, 1914.

Ponomarev Ya. A. Psychology of creativity. M.: Nauka, 1976. (in Russian)

Reber R., Schwarz N., Winkielman P. Processing fluency and aesthetic pleasure: Is beauty in the perceiver's processing experience? Personality and social psychology review, 2004, 8(4), 364–382. DOI:10.1207/s15327957pspr0804_3.

Salvi C., Bowden E.M. Looking for creativity: Where do we look when we look for new ideas? Frontiers in psychology, 2016, 7, 161. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00161.

Salvi C., Bricolo E., Franconeri S.L., Kounios J., Beeman M. Sudden insight is associated with shutting out visual inputs. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 2015, 22(6), 1814–9. DOI:10.3758/s13423-015-0845-0.

Salvi C., Bricolo E., Kounios J., Bowden E., Beeman M. Insight solutions are correct more often than analytic solutions. Thinking and Reasoning, 2016, 22, 443–460. DOI:10.1080/13546783.2016.1141798.

Salvi C., Simoncini C., Grafman J., Beeman M. Oculometric signature of switch into awareness? Pupil size predicts sudden insight whereas microsaccades problem-solving via analysis. NeuroImage, 2020, 217, 116933. DOI:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116933.

Sandkühler S., Bhattacharya J. Deconstructing insight: EEG correlates of insightful problem solving. PLoS one, 2008, 3(1), e1459. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0001459.

Schooler J.W., Ohlsson S., Brooks K. Thoughts beyond words: When language overshadows insight. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 1993, 122, 166–183. DOI:10.1037/0096-3445.122.2.166.

Seifert C.M., Meyer D.E., Davidson N., Patalano A.L., Yaniv I. Demystification of cognitive insight: opportunistic assimilation and the prepared-mind perspective. In: Sternberg R.R., Davidson J.E. (Eds.), The Nature of Insight. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995. Рp. 65–124.

Shen W., Yuan Y., Liu C., Luo J. In search of the аha-experience: Elucidating the emotionality of insight problem‐solving. British Journal of Psychology, 2016, 107(2), 281–298. DOI:10.1111/bjop.12142.

Silveira J. M. Incubation: The effect of interruption timing and length on problem solution and quality of problem processing. PhD dissertation. University of Oregon, Oregon, USA, 1971.

Simon H., Newell A., Shaw J.C. The process of creative thinking. In: H. Simon (Ed), Models of thought. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979. Рp. 144–174.

Skaar Ø.O., Reber R. The phenomenology of аha-experiences. Motivation Science, 2020, 6(1), 49–60, DOI:10.1037/mot0000138.

Spiridonov V.F., Loginov, N.I. In: Sovremennyye issledovaniya intellekta i tvorchestva, Proceedings of the Conference, Moscow, 2015. Moscow: Institute of Psychology of Russian Academy of Sciences, 2015, pp. 106–125. (in Russian)

Tikhomirov O.K. Struktura myslitel'noy deyatel'nosti cheloveka: Opyt teoreticheskogo i eksperimintal'nogo issledovaniya, Moscow, 1969. (in Russian)

Tikhonov R.V., Ammalainen A.V., Moroshkina N.V. The variety of metacognitive feelings: Different phenomena or different terms? Vestnik of Saint Petersburg University, Psychology, 2018, No. 8, Vol. 3, pp 214–242. (in Russian)

Topolinski S., Reber R. Gaining insight into the аha-experience. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2010, 19(6), 402–405. DOI:10.1177/0963721410388803.

Valueva E., Lapteva E., Ushakov D. Aha-cueing in problem solving. Learning and Individual Differences, 2016, 52, 204–208. DOI:10.1016/j.lindif.2016.02.003.

Valueva E.A., Mosinyan A.E., Lapteva E.M. Emotional hint and effective problem solving. Experimental Psychology (Russia), 2013. 6(3), 5–15. (in Russian)

Valueva E.A., Ushakov D.V. In: Sovremennyye issledovaniya intellekta i tvorchestva. Proceedings of the Conference, Moscow, 2015. Moscow: Institute of Psychology of Russian Academy of Sciences, 2015, pp. 15–47. (in Russian)

Valueva E.A., Ushakov D.V. Insight and incubation in thinking: the role of awareness processes. Siberian journal of psychology, 2017, No 63, pp. 19–35. DOI:10.17223/17267080/63/2. (in Russian)

Vladimirov I.Yu., Bushmanova A.S. In: Tvorchestvo v sovremennom mire: chelovek, obshchestvo, tekhnologii. Proceedings of the Conference, Moscow, 2020. Moscow: Institute of Psychology of Russian Academy of Sciences, 2020, pp. 106–108. (in Russian)

Webb M.E., Cropper S.J., Little D.R. Aha is stronger when preceded by a huh? Рresentation of a solution affects ratings of aha experience conditional on accuracy. Thinking & Reasoning, 2019, 25(3), 324–364. DOI:10.1080/13546783.2018.1523807.

Webb M.E., Little D.R., Cropper S.J. Once more with feeling: Normative data for the aha experience in insight and non-insight problems. Behavior Research Methods, 2018, 50, 2035–2056. DOI:10.3837/tiis.0000.00.000.

Weisberg R.W. Metacognition and insight during problem solving: Comment on Metcalfe. Journal of experimental psychology: Learning, memory, and cognition, 1992, 18(2), 426–431. DOI:10.1037/0278-7393.18.2.426.

Weisberg R.W. Prolegomena to theories of insight in problem solving: A taxonomy of problems. In: R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.), The nature of insight. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995. Рp. 157–196.

Wertheimer M. Productive thinking. New York: Harper, 1945.

Winkielman P., Schwarz N., Fazendeiro T., Reber R. The hedonic marking of processing fluency: Implications for evaluative judgment. In: J. Musch & K.C. Klauer (Eds.), The psychology of evaluation: Affective processes in cognition and emotion, P. 189–217. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2003.

Received 29 October 2020. Date of publication: 31 December 2020.

About author

Moroshkina Nadezhda V. PhD in Psychology, Senior Researcher, Institute for Cognitive Studies, St. Petersburg State University, Universitetskaya nab., 7/9, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia.
E-mail: Этот адрес электронной почты защищен от спам-ботов. У вас должен быть включен JavaScript для просмотра.

Ammalainen Artur V. Research Assistant, Institute for Cognitive Studies, St. Petersburg State University, PhD student, Department of General Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, St. Petersburg State University, Universitetskaya nab., 7/9, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia.
E-mail: Этот адрес электронной почты защищен от спам-ботов. У вас должен быть включен JavaScript для просмотра.

Savina Alina I. PhD student, Department of General Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, St. Petersburg State University, Universitetskaya nab., 7/9, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia.
E-mail: Этот адрес электронной почты защищен от спам-ботов. У вас должен быть включен JavaScript для просмотра.

Suggested citation

Moroshkina N.V., Ammalainen A.V., Savina A.I. Catching up with insight: modern approaches and methods of measuring insight in cognitive psychology. Psikhologicheskie Issledovaniya, 2020, Vol. 13, No. 74, p. 5. (in Russian, abstr. in English).

Permanent URL:

Back to top >>