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Insight and Intuition – two sides of the same coin?

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In the field of intuition it is widely accepted that problem solving proceeds in a more or less graded fashion from problem formulation to problem solution as previously encoded information is activated by clues to coherence. The resulting pattern of activation differentially sensitizes a person to new ...

In the field of intuition it is widely accepted that problem solving proceeds in a more or less graded fashion from problem formulation to problem solution as previously encoded information is activated by clues to coherence. The resulting pattern of activation differentially sensitizes a person to new information that is pertinent for the solution. Eventually, the continuous (and rapid) build-up of coherent information is sufficient to cross a threshold of awareness or noticing. Accordingly, implicitly acquired knowledge and experience play an important role because their content is assumed to be non-consciously and gradually activated in memory from clues in the environment that initiate an automatic spreading of activation. These assumptions are summarized in what has been known as the continuity model of intuition.

On the contrary, the current literature on insight problem solving favors a discontinuity model. Particularly, insight is linked to processes that restructure the mental representation of a problem. It is assumed that prior knowledge and inappropriate assumptions result in self-imposed constraints that establish a biased representation of the problem and thus prevent a solution. Consequently, a discontinuity model suggests the first intuitive apprehension of the problem to lead to an impasse and has to be overcome by relaxing these constraints to find a solution.

Until now, there has neither been theoretical discussion nor empirical investigation on the continuity/discontinuity distinction. Our open research questions include the following:
1. Are continuity/discontinuity different sides of the same coin distinguishing different stages within a continuous solution process, or do they stand for mutual exclusive processes?
2. If intuition is seen as “coherence building mechanism”, is it conceivable to describe the different stages within insight problem solving as coherence changing processes?
3. What are the underlying neuro-cognitive mechanisms that allow the search for coherence, respectively the change of coherence (representational change)? Both processes might go beyond a simple spreading activation account.
4. How does re-combination and the generation of new and novel solutions fit into the intuitive framework?
5. Could the application of Darwinian principles help to inform us about the underlying principles of both?

Obviously, this is a non-exhaustive list of open research questions. Contributions addressing other related research questions to the link between intuitive and insight processes are very welcome.


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