Characteristics that typically distinguish insight from “noninsight” solutions, people feel stuck before insight strikes; they can’t explain how they solved the problem and might say they were not even thinking about it; the solution appears suddenly and is immediately seen as correct. But are the neural processes involved in arriving at a solution through insight actually distinct from those related to more mundane problem-solving?
Recent findings suggest that people think about solutions, at an unconscious level, prior to solving insight problems, and that the right cerebral hemisphere (RH) appears to be preferentially involved. Jung-Beeman et al. predicted that a particular region of the RH, called the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG), is likely involved in insight because it seems critical for tasks that require recognizing broad associative semantic relationships—exactly the type of process that could facilitate reinterpretation of problems and lead to insight.
Problem-solving involves a complex cortical network to encode, retrieve, and evaluate information, but these results show that solving verbal problems with insight requires at least one additional component. Further, the fact that the effect occurred in RH aSTG suggests what that process may be: integration of distantly related information. Distinct neural processes, the authors conclude, underlie the sudden flash of insight that allows people to “see connections that previously eluded them.”