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How aha moments arise


The Belgian believes that in aha moments there is a kind of give and take between conscious and unconscious processes. For example, when people have to solve such word puzzles, several word associations are activated, but only the strongest ones are accessible to consciousness. If the correct answer happens to be a weaker association, people may feel stuck, but beneath the surface, without them realizing it, their mind can bring it to awareness.

»Finding a creative solution to a problem is like trying to see a dark star at night. You have to look at the problem out of the corner of your eye, so to speak,” says Northwestern University neuroscientist Mark Beeman, who was not involved in the study. Brainstorms usually come after we’ve pored over a problem for a while and put it aside. Once the foundation is laid through conscious mental effort, a walk, nap, or distracting task seems to facilitate a creative breakthrough, Beeman believes.

»Finding a creative solution to a problem is like trying to see a dark star at night. You have to look at the problem from the corner of your eye, so to speak.”(Mark Beeman, Neuroscientist)

Drawing attention to a faint idea in the background doesn’t seem to require any mental effort. Stuyck concludes this from the fact that even memory exercises could not suppress spontaneous aha moments. Beeman agrees, but cautions against extrapolating the new study’s findings directly to the real world. The task of remembering numbers may have been easy enough to serve as a useful distraction and give the puzzlers their eureka moment. However, he doubts that the same results will also occur when people’s brain power is put under greater strain. Giving more work to people who want to be more creative at work is therefore certainly not recommended.

Stuyck’s team is already preparing for another study using word puzzles. The researchers want to temporarily deactivate part of the prefrontal cortex, an area of ​​the brain that we use to consciously process information. To do this, they will use a harmless, non-invasive method called transcranial magnetic stimulation, in which brain cells are stimulated by magnetic fields. Then it will be seen whether flashes of inspiration cannot be stopped by this.



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