Oculometric signature of switch into awareness? Pupil size predicts sudden insight whereas microsaccades predict problem-solving via analysis

Carola Salvi*, Claudio Simoncini, Jordan Grafman, Mark Beeman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

According to the Gestalt theorists, restructuring is an essential component of insight problem-solving, contributes to the “Aha!” experience, and is similar to the perceptual switch experienced when reinterpreting ambiguous figures. Previous research has demonstrated that pupil diameter increases during the perceptual switch of ambiguous figures, and indexes norepeinephrine functioning mediated by the locus coeruleus. In this study, we investigated if pupil diameter similarly predicts the switch into awareness people experience when solving a problem via insight. Additionally, we explored eye movement dynamics during the same task to investigate if the problem-solving strategies used are linked to specific oculomotor behaviors. In 38 participants, pupil diameter increased about 500 msec prior to solution only in trials for which subjects report having an insight. In contrast, participants increased their microsaccade rate only prior to non-insight solutions. Pupil dilation and microsaccades were not reliably related, but both appear to be robust markers of how people solve problems (with or without insight). The pupil size change seen when people have an “Aha!” moment represents an indicator of the switch into awareness of unconscious processes humans depend upon for insight, and suggests important involvement of norepinephrine, via the locus coeruleus, in sudden insight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116933
JournalNeuroimage
Volume217
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 15 2020

Keywords

  • Attention
  • Eye movements
  • Insight
  • Problem-solving

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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