Sudden insight is associated with shutting out visual inputs

Carola Salvi*, Emanuela Bricolo, Steven L. Franconeri, John Kounios, Mark Beeman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Creative ideas seem often to appear when we close our eyes, stare at a blank wall, or gaze out of a window—all signs of shutting out distractions and turning attention inward. Prior research has demonstrated that attention-related brain areas are differently active when people solve problems with sudden insight (the Aha! phenomenon), relative to deliberate, analytic solving. We directly investigated the relationship between attention deployment and problem solving by recording eye movements and blinks, which are overt indicators of attention, as people solved short, visually presented problems. In the preparation period, before problems eventually solved by insight, participants blinked more frequently and longer, and made fewer fixations, than before problems eventually solved by analysis. Immediately prior to solutions, participants blinked longer and looked away from the problem more often when solving by insight than when solving analytically. These phenomena extend prior research with a direct demonstration of dynamic differences in attention as people solve problems with sudden insight versus analytically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1814-1819
Number of pages6
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Creativity
  • Eye movements
  • Problem solving
  • Visual attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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