7
Intuition, incubation, and insight: implicit cognition in problem solving

Jennifer Dorfman, Victor A. Shames, and John F. Kihlstrom

A number of isolated phenomena that usually make up the potpourri of topics grouped under thinking, such as functional fixity, the Einstellung effect, insight, incubation, and so on, must surely be included within the scope of a comprehensive theory. No extensive reanalysis of these phenomena from an information processing viewpoint has been carried out, but they speak to the same basic phenomena, so should yield to such an explanation. ( Newell and Simon 1973, pp. 871-2)

Introspective analyses of human problem solving have often focused on the phenomena of intuition, incubation, and insight. The thinker senses that a problem is soluble (and perhaps what direction the solution will take), but fails to solve it on his or her first attempt; later, after a period in which he or she has been occupied with other concerns (or, perhaps, with nothing at all), the solution to the problem emerges full-blown into conscious awareness. These phenomena, which have long intrigued observers of problem solving, have also long eluded scientific analysis -- in part because they seem to implicate unconscious processes. The Gestalt psychologists, of course, featured insight in their theories of thinking and problem solving, but interest in intuition, incubation, and insight, among other mentalistic phenomena, declined during the dominance of behaviourism.

With the advent of the cognitive revolution in the 1960s, psychologists returned their attention to thinking, so that a large literature has developed on problems of categorization, reasoning, and judgement, as well as problem solving per se. While our understanding of these aspects of thinking has advanced considerably over the past 35 years, most of this research has focused on the subject's performance on various problem-solving tasks, rather than the subject's experience during problem solving. In this chapter, we wish to revive a concern with problem-solving experience, in particular the experiences of intuition and incubation leading to insight, and to argue that recent work on implicit memory provides a model for examining the role of unconscious processes during problem solving.

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