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Insight phenomenology

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When people solve, or attempt to solve an insight puzzle, they experience a common phenomenology, that is, a set of behavioural properties that accompany problem-solving activity (for a useful edited review of insight problems and their phenomenology, see Sternberg & Davidson, 1995). Other kinds of puzzle, such as the Tower of Hanoi, an example of a transformation problem, tend not to yield these phenomena. The phenomena may include:

  • Impasse: An individual reaches a point where he or she simply appears to run out of ideas of new things to try that might solve a problem.
  • Fixation: An individual repeats the same type of solution attempt again and again, even when they see that it does not seem to lead to solution.
  • Incubation: A pause or gap between attempts to solve a problem can sometimes appear to aid the finding of a solution, as if one is clearing the mind of faulty ideas.
  • The 'Aha' experience or Eureka effect: The solutions to some insight problems can seem to appear from nowhere, like a Eureka moment.


Sternberg, R. J. and J. E. Davidson (1995). The nature of insight. Cambridge MA, MIT Press. {(enWP|Insight phenomenology}}

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