Getting the right idea: Semantic Activation in the Right Hemisphere May Help Solve Insight Problems

Edward M. Bowden*, Mark Jung Beeman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Scopus citations


Two experiments examined hemispheric differences in information processing that may contribute to solving insight problems. We propose that right-hemisphere (RH) coarse semantic coding is more likely than left-hemisphere (LH) fine semantic coding to activate distantly related information or unusual interpretations of words, and thus more likely to activate solution-relevant information for insight problems. In Experiment 1, after trying to solve insight problems, participants read aloud solution or unrelated target words presented to the left visual field (lvf) or right visual field (rvf). Participants showed greater lvf-RH than rvf-LH priming for solutions for solved problems and priming only in the lvf-RH for unsolved problems. In Experiment 2, participants showed an lvf-RH advantage for recognizing solutions to unsolved problems. These results demonstrate that in a problem-solving context, there was greater activation of solution-relevant information in the RH than in the LH. This activation is useful for recognizing, and perhaps producing, solutions to insight problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-440
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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