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The literature on insight lists four main characteristics of this experience: (a) suddenness (the experience is surprising and immediate), ease (the solution is processed without difficulty), positive affect (insights are gratifying), and the feeling of being right (after an insight, problem solvers judge the solution as being true and have confidence in this judgment). Although this phenomenology is well known, no theory has explained why insight feels the way it does. We propose a fluency account of insight: Positive affect and perceived truth and confidence in one's own judgment are triggered by the sudden appearance of the solution for a problem and the concomitant surprising fluency gain in processing. We relate earlier evidence on insight concerning the impact of sudden fluency variations on positive affect and perceived truth and confidence.
Gaining Insight Into the ‘Aha’ Experience
Sascha Topolinski
and Rolf Reber
University of Wu¨rzburg and
University of Bergen
The literature on insight lists four main characteristics of this experience: (a) suddenness (the experience is surprising and
immediate), ease (the solution is processed without difficulty), positive affect (insights are gratifying), and the feeling of being
right (after an insight, problem solvers judge the solution as being true and have confidence in this judgment). Although this
phenomenology is well known, no theory has explained why insight feels the way it does. We propose a fluency account of
insight: Positive affect and perceived truth and confidence in one’s own judgment are triggered by the sudden appearance of
the solution for a problem and the concomitant surprising fluency gain in processing. We relate earlier evidence on insight
concerning the impact of sudden fluency variations on positive affect and perceived truth and confidence.
affect, confidence, insight, judged truth, processing fluency, surprise
The sudden appearance of a solution through insight, the
famous aha effect, is a peculiar phenomenal experience that
people have when they solve a problem, as the following exam-
ple illustrates. After working for weeks on new kinds of math-
ematical transformations, mathematician Henri Poincare´
stopped working and went on a geological excursion, during
which he put the mathematical problem out of his mind. One
day on that trip, he entered a bus: ‘‘Just as I put my foot on the
step, the idea came to me, though nothing in my former
thoughts seemed to have prepared me for it, that the transfor-
mations I had used to define Fuchsian functions were identical
with those of non-Euclidean geometry. ... I made no verifica-
tion ... but I felt absolute certainty at once’’ (Poincare´, 1913/
1996, p. 53). Only days later, after having returned home, he
verified this discovery. When later studying arithmetic ques-
tions without apparent success, Poincare´ again one day experi-
enced an idea coming to him ‘‘with the same characteristics of
conciseness, suddenness, and immediate certainty’’ (p. 54).
Why is an insight accompanied by such experiences? Accord-
ing to Poincare´ (p. 59), insight is ‘a real aesthetic feeling that
all true mathematicians recognize, and this is truly sensibility,’’
capable of eliciting ‘‘aesthetic emotion.’
Poincare´’s descriptions illustrate the main characteristics of
the experience of insight:
Suddenness. The solution of the problem pops into mind
abruptly and surprisingly (Gick & Lockhart, 1995; Metcalfe
& Wiebe, 1987).
Ease. However difficult the problem-related processing
might have been before, it is processed fast and easily after
a solution has been found.
For some experts, these two features constitute the pivotal
moment of insight and are sufficient to form the definitional
core of it (Gick & Lockhart, 1995; Metcalfe & Wiebe, 1987).
However, two further experiences closely accompany insight:
Positive affect. An insight yields a genuine positive affec-
tive experience (Gruber, 1995); this positive affect comes
before the assessment of the solution and therefore is not
Truth and confidence. After an insight, problem solvers
judge the solution as being true and express confidence in
that judgment, even before systematically assessing the
solution’s veracity in a formal analysis (Gick & Lockhart,
In sum, insight is an experience during or subsequent to
problem-solving attempts, in which problem-related content
comes to mind with sudden ease and provides a feeling of
Corresponding Author:
Sascha Topolinski, Department of Psychology II Social Psychology, University
of Wuerzburg, Roentgenring 10, 97070 Wuerzburg, Germany
Current Directions in Psychological
19(6) 402-405
ªThe Author(s) 2010
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0963721410388803
pleasure, the belief that the solution is true, and confidence in
this belief.
Although a body of excellent research has examined the cog-
nitive and brain processes that may lead up to an insight (see
Kounios & Beeman, 2009; Metcalfe & Wiebe, 1987), there is
no coherent explanation for the phenomenology (i.e., experi-
ence) of insight. This is astonishing, since for many researchers
the phenomenology is sufficient to define insight (e.g., Kounios
& Beeman, 2009; Gick & Lockhart, 1995; Metcalfe & Wiebe,
1987). Most crucially, problem solvers’ self-reports regarding
this experience are often the only indicators of whether a
problem has been solved by insight or not. Indeed, recent
brain-imaging studies on insight have been unable to provide
other markers of the process (see Kounios & Beeman, 2009).
To better understand the conceptual and methodological signif-
icance of the phenomenology of the insight experience, it is
important to try to advance from a first-person perspective
(based on data only accessible to the subject) to a third-
person perspective (based on data observable from outside)
by explaining why an insight feels the way it does.
Insight and Processing Fluency
Recent research in cognitive and social psychology has identi-
fied processing fluency as a feeling state that helps integrate the
experiential components of insight. Processing fluency is the
ease with which information is processed in the cognitive sys-
tem (see Reber, Schwarz, & Winkielman, 2004)—pertaining,
for instance, to perceptual input, semantic representations, or
the retrieval of memory contents.
Our basic hypothesis is that the solution of a problem, pop-
ping up suddenly and exhibiting an increase in processing flu-
ency, triggers both positive affect and confidence in the truth of
the solution, as is implied by a body of evidence from fluency
research. In the following, we review evidence and relate it to
insights concerning the impact of fluency on (a) positive affect,
(b) judged truth and confidence, and (c) the importance of
The Pleasure of Ease
Processing fluency depends on content-independent dynamics
of information processing, namely the ease and speed with
which the processing succeeds independent of content (Reber
et al., 2004). With respect to insight, fluency reflects the rush
of insight (Gick & Lockhart, 1995), the ease with which the
solution is understood. Fluency can be manipulated by such
procedures as exposing individuals to the same stimulus repeat-
edly or by changing stimulus attributes like figure-ground con-
trast or symmetry.
High processing fluency per se appears to be hedonically
marked, because stimuli that are processed easily and rapidly are
preferred to stimuli that are difficult to process (Winkielman &
Cacioppo, 2001; Topolinski & Strack, 2009a). Fluency triggers
positive affect even outside of awareness, as indicated by
automatic facial responses to subjectively undetected fluency
gains (Topolinski, Likowski, Weyers, & Strack, 2009). This
genuine consequence of fluency may resemble the joy that
comes with the aha experience and may result in the aesthetic
emotion that Poincare´ (1913/1996) thought intimately accom-
panies insight.
Remember that Poincare´ thought that the aesthetic emotion
and his absolute certainty were somehow related. Indeed, pro-
cessing fluency increases both positive affect and judged truth
(Reber et al., 2004), as is discussed in the following section.
Effects of Fluency on Judged Truth and
Fluency triggers not only affective preferences but a broad
range of other judgments, including ratings of loudness, clarity,
or familiarity of a stimulus (see Reber et al., 2004). Importantly
for the present account, high fluency also increases judgments
of truth and confidence. In an experiment by Reber and
Schwarz (1999), participants had to judge whether statements
of the form ‘Osorno is in Chile’’ were true. Half of the state-
ments were presented in a dark color against a white screen
background, yielding high figure–ground contrast; other state-
ments were shown with less contrast so that the statements
were still readable but took more time to process, as assessed
with a clarification task. The authors found a small but reliable
effect of this contrast manipulation on judgments of truth:
Statements printed in high rather than low contrast against a
background were more likely to be judged as being true (see
Rhodes & Castel, 2008, and Unkelbach, 2007, Experiment 1,
for strong fluency effects on judgments).
Fluency influences not only the apparent truth ratings of
statements but also confidence in one’s own performance.
When a general-knowledge question is easily processed, peo-
ple are more confident in their capability of answering it cor-
rectly, independently of their actual capability (Koriat &
Levy-Sadot, 2001). When, in turn, an answer to a general-
knowledge question is easily retrieved, people are more confi-
dent in their general memory content, independently of their
actual knowledge (Benjamin, Bjork, & Schwartz, 1998). Most
significantly, the ease and speed with which an answer pops
into people’s minds increase their belief in the truth of this
answer—again, independently of its actual correctness (Kelley
& Lindsay, 1993). These findings show that fluent processing
increases judged truth and a person’s confidence in their capa-
bility, an experience that resembles the feeling of truth and con-
fidence that accompanies a sudden insight.
The Role of Suddenness
Insights come suddenly. This characteristic has been observed
empirically: Metcalfe and Wiebe (1987) asked participants to
continuously assess their progress on solving insight problems
by rating their ‘‘feeling of warmth’ concerning the distance to
a proper solution. It turned out that these feeling-of-warmth rat-
ings remained stable at a low level until the eventual moment of
insight, at which point they rose rapidly. This suggests that
Fluency and Insight 403
people appear to feel low levels of fluency during much of the
problem-solving process and cannot anticipate the moment of
insight. Then, suddenly, the problem solver experiences insight
with abruptly rising fluency of the emerging solution, as
described by Poincare´ (1913/1996). Recent research supports
the idea that this discrepancy between processing fluency
before and after the appearance of the solution may be one
component of the aha experience.
In their pioneering work on discrepant fluency, Whittlesea
and Williams (1998) let participants study a list of words. In
a later test phase, the participants were presented with real
words (e.g., ‘‘TABLE’’) and homophones of real words
(e.g., ‘PHRAWG,’’ sounding like ‘frog’’). In a recognition
test, new homophones not shown in the study list were more
likely to be judged ‘‘old’ than were new words. According to
Whittlesea and Williams (1998), pronouncing real words like
‘table’’ was done easily, as was the retrieval of the meaning
of real words, so that fluency was not surprising. However,
initially participants were nonfluent when pronouncing a
novel pseudoword like PHRAWG. Once having pronounced
the pseudoword, however, its phonic resemblance to a well-
known word whose meaning could be easily retrieved
resulted in a surprising fluency gain. Participants attributed
this surprising fluency to an earlier encounter with this word,
resulting in more false alarms.
This finding was recently extended by Hansen, Decheˆne,
and Wa¨nke (2008), who demonstrated that fluency increased
subjective truth only when the level of fluency was surprisingly
high. Specifically, they replicated the above-mentioned experi-
ment by Reber and Schwarz (1999), with the exception that
they presented blocks of six statements with the same con-
trast—for example first six statements with low figure–ground
contrast (moderately fluent) and then six statements with high
figure–ground contrast (fluent). They found that when a fluent
statement appeared as the last statement within the block of flu-
ent statements, judged truth was not higher than it was for less
fluent statements in other blocks. In contrast, fluent statements
were judged as more truthful when a fluent statement immedi-
ately followed a block of six less fluent statements. Thus, sur-
prising fluency increased judged truth. The findings of this
study suggest that change in fluency is a prerequisite for the
judgmental consequences of fluency.
Finally, in a recent study that specifically targeted sudde-
ness, Topolinski and Reber (2010) manipulated the immedi-
acy of the appearance of a solution after a problem. One
experiment varied the onset time (50 ms vs. 150 ms) of the
appearance of solutions to anagrams. Participants were pre-
sented with anagrams that either resulted in a German word
(e.g., ‘GEWIKITE’’), or that did not (e.g., ‘‘GELIKITE’’),
followed by a blank screen. Then, the solution word (here:
‘EWIGKEIT,’’ which means eternity) appeared, with a delay
of either 50 or 150 ms. Solutions presented with a delay of
50 ms were more likely to be endorsed than solutions shown
after 150 ms, regardless of whether or not the solutions to the
anagrams were actually correct. This experiment provides
evidence that the sudden onset of a solution is sufficient to
change its judged correctness. The findings reviewed in this
section fit anecdotal observations that sudden flashes of
insight increased the belief that a theory is true (Poincare´,
Given the considerations above, we can now integrate the phe-
nomenal components of the aha experience into a unifying
account of this experience and can identify processing fluency
as the glue between its experiential features. When a solution to
a problem pops into a person’s mind, information that has been
difficult to process can be processed more fluently. This sudden
change in processing fluency increases positive affect, the
judged truth of the solution (independent of its actual truth),
and subjective confidence in this truth judgment. Our hypoth-
esis integrates experiential features of insight that were only
loosely connected in the prior literature by identifying them
as being not only essential concomitants of insight but even
integral parts of the underlying causal mechanism—namely,
sudden changes in fluency when processing the problem and its
This account complements research in cognitive psychology
and neuroscience by opening a path from a first-person per-
spective on the phenomenology of insight to a third-person per-
spective. Moreover, our account makes several novel
predictions. On one hand, future research might manipulate the
determinants and direct concomitants of the insight experience,
including fluency (Reber et al., 2004), suddenness (Topolinski
& Reber, 2010), or affect (Topolinski & Strack, 2009b) to elu-
cidate the causal architecture of this experience. Our crucial
prediction is that aha experiences entailing mild pleasure and
confidence can be induced experimentally, thus creating illu-
sions of insight. In this regard, we predict that the currently fea-
tured procedural determinants are sufficient conditions to
evoke an insight experience. Thus, even a trivial idea can
become a momentary aha experience if sudden fluency in pro-
cessing this idea is induced.
On the other hand, the phenomenology of insight can be
examined more objectively than it has been to date. The
affective consequences of insight experiences, such as
immediate positive affect, can be measured by assessing the
activity of the zygomaticus major—the ‘‘smiling muscle’
(e.g., Topolinski et al., 2009; Winkielman & Cacioppo,
2001). The judgmental consequences of insight experiences,
such as felt confidence, may be measured by letting partici-
pants bet money on a decision outcome (Persaud, McLeod,
& Cowey, 2007). Such measures can be used as objective
markers to determine the emergence of insight beyond subjec-
tive self-reports (cf. Kounios & Beeman, 2009). Finally, on
conceptual grounds, our fluency hypothesis raises the
challenge of how insight might be related to similar yet distinct
cognitive feelings, such as the feeling of knowing, or intuition,
that—interestingly—also have been shown to draw on pro-
cessing fluency (Koriat & Levy-Sadot, 2001; Topolinski &
Strack, 2009a; 2009b).
404 Topolinski, Reber
Recommended Reading
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Oppenheimer, D.M. (2008). The secret life of fluency. Trends in
Cognitive Sciences,12, 237–241. A succinct and up-to-date review
of the pervasive influence of processing fluency in a broad range of
Reber, R., Schwarz, N., & Winkielman, P. (2004). (See References).
A review about the interplay between cognition, fluency, and affect.
We thank Kalina Christoff, Ara Norenzayan, and three anonymous
reviewers for valuable comments on an earlier draft.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with respect
to their authorship or the publication of this article.
S.T. was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Str 264/
25-1), R.R. by the Norwegian Research Council (#192415).
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Fluency and Insight 405
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Conference Paper
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XYZ adalah tempat wisata selfie yang memadukan konsep wisata alam dan wisata edukasi. Keberlangsungan bisnis XYZ terancam karena tingginya persaingan industry pariwisata di Kota Batu dan adanya kesamaan konsep antara pesaing dengan XYZ. Guna menghadapi persaingan yang ketat, XYZ perlu membuat strategi pemasaran dan bisnis model yang baru agar meningkatkan daya saing, aspek bisnis dan inovasi. Tujuan dari penelitian ini merumuskan bisnis model canvas baru yang telah terimplementasi strategi pemasaran berdasar Sun Tzu The Art of War pada objek wisata XYZ. Hasil dari penelitian ini adalah terpilihnya stratagems Take The Opportunity To Pilfer A Goat yang mana pengembangan dari stratagems diimplementasikan dalam blok-blok Bisnis Model Canvas. Kesimpulan dari penelitian ini adalah rancangan BMC setelah terimplementasi stratagems Sun Tzu Take The Opportunity To Pilfer A Goat mengakibatkan perubahan pada tujuh blok. Ke tujuh blok tersebut terjadi dari Customer segments, Channels, Resource, Activities, Partnership, Value Proposition, dan Cost Structure.
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This article addresses the challenge of teaching theory to people who view theorising sceptically. This is often the case in the context of leadership trainings. In this article, I critically analyse the trivialisation of leadership, often based on success stories, and offer seven methods to include theory in leadership classes, namely electing students; reversing the order: practice-theory instead of theory-practice; creating aha experiences with theory; selecting "good" theory; pointing out the benefit of a special theory; viewing theories as eye-glasses, and suggesting eyeglasses from different disciplines. I then argue, first, that leadership theory is needed, because real leadership is nontrivial and, secondly, that we need to teach more than one leadership theory, in order to encourage critical thinking.
This chapter introduces the first, fundamental purpose for individual coaching in community and organisational settings—to increase self-awareness and insight. Self-awareness can be revelatory when insights result from Aha! moments that surface from the client’s subconscious during coaching. Reflective practice, in which the coach uses personal sharing to develop rapport and a trusting, working relationship with the client, incorporates relational depth to surface insights leading to personal change. Throughout, the coach engages the client in active and reflective listening to reveal their story. They also use powerful questioning to challenge any discrepancies or incongruences that appear in the client’s story as opportunities to reveal judgements, biases, and preconceived beliefs that are holding them back from achieving their goals. Clients who are self-aware and insightful are more confident and have greater ability to grow and develop personally and professionally.
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A model for the basis of feeling of knowing (FOK) is proposed, which combines 2 apparently competing accounts, cue familiarity (L. M. Reder, 1987), and accessibility (A. Koriat, 1993). Both cue familiarity and accessibility are assumed to contribute asynchronously to FOK, but whereas the effects of familiarity occur early, those of accessibility occur later and only when cue familiarity is sufficiently high to drive the interrogation of memory for potential answers. General information questions were used to orthogonally manipulate cue familiarity and accessibility. As expected, both familiarity and accessibility enhanced FOK judgments, but the effects of accessibility were found mostly when familiarity was high. This interactive pattern was replicated when FOK judgments were delayed but not when they were immediate. The results support the proposed cascaded model of FOK but also imply a differentiation between 2 variants of the accessibility heuristic.
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Insight occurs when a person suddenly reinterprets a stimulus, situation, or event to produce a nonobvious, nondominant interpretation. This can take the form of a solution to a problem (an "aha moment"), comprehension of a joke or metaphor, or recognition of an ambiguous percept. Insight research began a century ago, but neuroimaging and electrophysiological techniques have been applied to its study only during the past decade. Recent work has revealed insight-related coarse semantic coding in the right hemisphere and internally focused attention preceding and during problem solving. Individual differences in the tendency to solve problems insightfully rather than in a deliberate, analytic fashion are associated with different patterns of resting-state brain activity. Recent studies have begun to apply direct brain stimulation to facilitate insight. In sum, the cognitive neuroscience of insight is an exciting new area of research with connections to fundamental neurocognitive processes.
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In intuitions concerning semantic coherence participants are able to discriminate above chance whether a word triad has a common remote associate (coherent triad) or not (incoherent triad). These intuitions are driven by increased fluency in processing coherent triads compared to incoherent triads, which in turn triggers a brief and short positive affect. The present work investigates which of these internal cues, fluency or positive affect, is the actual cue underlying coherence intuitions. In Experiment 1, participants liked coherent word triads more than incoherent triads, but did not rate them as being more fluent in processing. In Experiment 2, participants could intuitively detect coherence when they misattributed fluency to an external source, but lost this intuitive ability when they misattributed affect. It is concluded that the coherence-induced fluency by itself is not consciously experienced and not used in the coherence intuitions, but the fluency-triggered affective consequences.
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The experiments address the degree to which retrieval fluency--the case with which information is accessed from long-term memory--guides and occasionally misleads metamnemonic judgments. In each of 3 experiments, participants' predictions of their own future recall performance were examined under conditions in which probability or speed of retrieval at one time or on one task is known to be negatively related to retrieval probability on a later task. Participants' predictions reflected retrieval fluency on the initial task in each case, which led to striking mismatches between their predicted and actual performance on the later tasks. The results suggest that retrieval fluency is a potent but not necessarily reliable source of information for metacognitive judgments. Aspects of the results suggest that a basis on which better and poorer rememberers differ is the degree to which certain memory dynamics are understood, such as the fleeting nature of recency effects and the consequences of an initial retrieval. The results have pedagogical as well as theoretical implications, particularly with respect to the education of subjective assessments of ongoing learning.
The affect system, in its position to monitor organismic-environmental transactions, may be sensitive to the internal dynamics of information processing. Hence, the authors predicted that facilitation of stimulus processing should elicit a brief, mild, positive affective response. In 2 studies, participants watched a series of neutral pictures while the processing ease was unobtrusively manipulated. Affective reactions were assessed with facial electromyography (EMG). In both studies, easy-to-process pictures elicited higher activity over the region of zygomaticus major, indicating positive affect. The EMG data were paralleled by self-reports of positive responses to the facilitated stimuli. The findings suggest a close link between processing dynamics and affect and may help understand several preference phenomena, including the mere-exposure effect. The findings also highlight a potential source of affective biases in social judgments.
We propose that confidence in potential answers to general knowledge questions is based, in part, on the ease with which those answers come to mind. Consistent with this hypothesis, prior exposure to correct and to related but incorrect answers to general knowledge questions increased the speed, frequency, and confidence with which subjects gave those answers on a subsequent test of general knowledge. Similar effects were obtained even when subjects were warned that the list included incorrect answers (Experiment 2). The results of Experiment 3 indicated that the effects do not rely on deliberate search of memory for the list: Subjects who read a list with correct answers to half of the questions on a subsequent test gained full benefit of exposure to correct answers relative to subjects who read a list with correct answers to all of the questions, yet showed no cost on questions for which answers were not in the list relative to subjects who read a list of unrelated fillers. Finally, Experiments 4a and 4b demonstrated that prior exposure to incorrect answers can give rise to illusions of knowing even when subjects know that all of the answers on the study list were incorrect. In those studies, subjects were correctly informed that all of the answers on the list were incorrect, yet those who had studied the list with divided attention nonetheless tended to give the studied incorrect answers as responses to the knowledge questions. We discuss these findings in terms of Jacoby, Kelley. and Dywans (1989) attributional approach to subjective experience.
This study shows that high conceptual fluency induced by hidden semantic coherence automatically triggers a specific pattern of facial expressions. In the present study, word triads that either had or had not a common remote associate were read by individuals while automatic facial responses were recorded. Although participants were ignorant about the underlying semantic structure, participants’ faces showed an activation of the smiling muscle zygomaticus major (indicating increased positive affect), a relaxation of the frowning muscle corrugator supercilii (indicating decreased negative affect and mental effort), and a relaxation of the forehead muscle frontalis (indicating increased familiarity) after reading coherent compared to incoherent word triads. Implications for intuitive judgements of semantic coherence are discussed.
The present experiment tested the hypothesis that perceptual fluency affects truth judgments especially when the fluency has changed. Participants were asked to judge the truth of statements that were printed in different colors. Perceptual fluency was manipulated by color contrast. Change versus no change of fluency was manipulated by using preceding statements that had the same or a different contrast. As expected, highly fluent statements were judged as more probably true than statements with a low fluency but this effect occurred only when the high fluency meant a change from previous fluency. The role of discrepancies in subjective experiences in terms of their informativeness for social judgments is discussed.