Insight problem solving is not that special, but business is not quite 'as usual': typical versus exceptional problem-solving strategies

Nirit Salmon-Mordekovich, Mark Leikin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The intriguing phenomenon of insight (also known as the "Aha!" moment) has provoked a long-standing conflict over its cognitive mechanism. The special-process theory posits insight as a unique, unconscious mechanism. Conversely, the business-as-usual theory conceptualizes insight processing as ordinary and similar to non-insight, i.e., analytic, incremental, and attention demanding. To resolve this conflict, participants completed cognitive tests and solved four types of problems: verbal insight, spatial insight, verbal non-insight, and spatial non-insight. These problems were solved under three conditions: silence (control), inner speech suppression (articulatory suppression), and non-verbal attentional demands (spatial tapping). Interestingly, insight problem solving differed from verbal non-insight, but resembled spatial non-insight problem solving. Solving insight and spatial non-insight problems substantially benefitted from spatial and near verbal analogical thinking and convergent thinking, and little from divergent thinking. Both were unaffected by secondary tasks. Analogical thinking was associated more strongly with the generation of new solution procedures than with the retrieval of known procedures from memory, as in verbal non-insight problem solving. Analogical and convergent thinking seem to be key skills for the creation of new solutions, whether or not they are insight based. The results indicate a typical, analytic solution method consistent with the business-as-usual theory. Yet, there is also evidence for an exceptional solving method that includes rare attributes of the insightful process delineated by the special-process theory. Thus, we endorse an unequally integrated assertion that each theory reflects a different mode of thinking, the common versus the uncommon, by which insightful solutions can be produced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1995-2009
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Insight problem solving is not that special, but business is not quite 'as usual': typical versus exceptional problem-solving strategies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this