When a solution to a problem seems to have come to you out of thin air, it turns out you’ve more than likely been struck with the right idea, according to a new study.
A series of experiments conducted by a team of researchers determined that a person’s sudden insights are often more accurate at solving problems than thinking them through analytically.
“Conscious, analytic thinking can sometimes be rushed or sloppy, leading to mistakes while solving a problem,” said team member John Kounios, PhD, professor in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences and the co-author of the book “The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight and the Brain.” “However, insight is unconscious and automatic — it can’t be rushed. When the process runs to completion in its own time and all the dots are connected unconsciously, the solution pops into awareness as an Aha! moment. This means that when a really creative, breakthrough idea is needed, it’s often best to wait for the insight rather than settling for an idea that resulted from analytical thinking.”
Experiments with four different types of timed puzzles showed that those answers that occurred as sudden insights (also described as Aha! moments) were more likely to be correct. Moreover, people who tended to have more of these insights were also more likely to miss the deadline rather than provide an incorrect, but in-time, answer. Those who responded based on analytic thought (described as being an idea that is worked out consciously and deliberately) were more likely to provide an answer by the deadline, though these last-minute answers were often wrong.