The Science of Eureka


The Science of Eureka

We’ve talked about the power of the “Eureka!” moment before on the blog and here’s the science to back it up: these epiphanies are often better at solving problems than analytical thinking. Researchers at Drexel University did a series of experiments last year that prove the value of these flashes of insight, even over more rational analytical thinking.

One professor on the study, Dr John Kounios, is even co-author of the book The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight and the Brain. On the Eureka moments, he says, “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.”

How do you test for something like that? Subjects were given four different types of timed puzzles to complete. The ones who reported their answer coming from an “aha” moment were more likely to be correct. People answering with an analytical answer were more likely to meet the time deadline – but their answer was wrong making meeting the deadline a bit irrelevant.

Insight proved the clear winner. On the linguistic puzzles insight had a 94% success rate, compared to 78% for analytic approaches. In visual puzzles the gap was even bigger: 78% for insight versus 42% for analytic.

So an insight isn’t always going to be right but it has a much greater chance of being correct than an analytical response, especially under a deadline. We tend to look down on these sudden “aha” moments though, thinking that answers ought to come from robust analysis and toil. Really it depends on the subject.

Dr Kounios said that analytical thinking is best for when there are known strategies to find solutions, like maths. But for creative thinking or issues without an obvious structure for a solution then these insights deserve to be given weight and consideration as they are even more likely to be right than an apparently rigorously methodical analytic solution.

The next question is how to go about collecting these insights as by definition they are less likely to happen when you are sat at your desk actively working on a problem. In fact the “aha” moments can happen at very inconvenient times – such as when you are driving.

Which is exactly where MessageMia can help. Remember your great ideas while driving by calling up Mia and leaving a message. It will be transcribed and emailed back to you, ready to go. MessageMia is your hands-free on-the-go notebook.

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