Moments of Brilliance: Understanding the Aha-experience through Bayesian Statistics
Appears in the following Collection
- Psykologisk institutt 
AbstractRegarded as the product of prolonged and sustained efforts, creativity is still often associated with the rare moments when a solution to a problem suddenly bursts into consciousness: the hallmark of sudden insight. The present thesis aims to provide evidence for a better understanding of the phenomenology connected with these moments, colloquially termed as the Aha-experience. Founded on an integrative fluency account, linking sudden insight to the ease with which information is processed, positive affect and subjective certainty in the newfound solution, the thesis delves into different aspects of educational, cognitive, personality and social psychology, providing diverse and new understanding of motivation and creativity associated with the Aha-experience. Paper I utilized the integrative fluency account to understand metacognitive feelings in relation to change in motivation and coping from Ahaexperiences. Paper II applied social role theory to help explain gender similarities and differences in Aha-experiences. Paper III examined elapsed time since last memorable Aha-experience to explore the relationship between Openness to Experience and the frequency of Aha-experiences. Based on a large, retrospective survey, utilizing multiple independent samples, the strength of the project is the overall coherence between the individual studies. The design allows drawing conclusions across the three papers, which is the main purpose of this dissertation. All three studies applied bfw, a Bayesian framework, developed in tandem with the ongoing PhD project. The framework provided several modules to conduct linear and non-linear, hierarchical analyses, and allowed the use of custom Bayesian models specifically devolved for the project. The goal of the framework was to easily estimate parameter values and the stability of estimates and conduct convergence diagnostics. In other words, to assess the certainty, and uncertainty, associated with the presented results. Thus, the development of bfw aided the process of gaining a deeper understanding of the phenomenology of insight. An important aspect of this thesis is to present the methodological considerations of the Bayesian approach. Paper I aimed to test the integrative fluency account and examine the relationship between Aha-experiences and motivation within a given domain. Results indicated that fluency, positive affect and subjective certainty are underlying facets of metacognitive feelings elicited by sudden insight. The study strengthens the hypothesis that fluency is marked hedonically and epistemically, and therefore generally conforms to the proposed fluency account. Moreover, the study links the Aha-experience with an increase of motivation and coping. Paper II explored the situational aspects of Aha-experiences. Prior research indicates that boys show more interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) than girls, where traditional STEM education is marked as highly competitive and individualoriented. We applied a social role theory perspective to explain the role of gender in interest. Social role theory argues that society’s division of labor between men and women forms social roles and gender stereotypes, and that an interaction of biological and social processes influences sex-differentiated dispositions and behaviors. Results indicated that men, compared to women, were more likely to be alone during the Aha-experience. The effect was most credible for participants who reported increased interest in personal and STEM domains. The study is consistent with previous findings that women, relative to men, find more interest from cooperation. The study concludes that biosocial influences have led, in part, women to adopt more communal roles and men more agentic roles. Paper III examined the relationship between personality traits and the frequency of Ahaexperiences. Openness to Experience appears to be the strongest predictor of creativity and creative self-efficacy, and the Aha-experience is a phenomenon associated with creativity. Results linked Openness to Experience to recollecting autobiographical memories, and it is argued that feelings in the fringe of consciousness serve as a retrieval function, mainly through metacognitive feelings associated with a specific insight. Furthermore, the relationship between Openness to Experience and frequency of Aha-experiences was dependent on elapsed time since the last memorable Aha-experience, indicating that the relationship depends on creative achievement in the form of Aha-experiences and not just creative aptitude. Paper III concludes that to understand the relationship between Openness to Experience and Aha-experiences, and creativity in general, it is essential to consider the effect of motivational processes. Drawn together, the current thesis suggests that understanding situational aspects, phenomenological dimensions and individual differences are crucial in order to understand the Aha-experience itself. The thesis discusses these implications and draws inferences based on the overall perception of the independent studies. In sum, the work presented herein states that the Aha-experiences are multifaceted and without the context in which the sudden insight occurred, the Aha-experience will remain a mythical phenomenon.
List of papers
|I: Skaar, Ø. O., & Reber, R. (2019). The phenomenology of Aha-experiences. Motivation Science. The paper is not available in DUO due to publisher restrictions. The published version will be available at: https://doi.org/10.1037/mot0000138|
|II: Skaar, Ø. O., & Reber, R. (2019). Unravelling the Aha-experience: Gender Differences and Similarities Predicted by Social Context, Domain and Interest. To be published. The paper is not available in DUO awaiting publishing.|
|III: Skaar, Ø. O., & Reber, R. (2019). Fringe Consciousness and Openness to Aha-experiences. To be published. The paper is not available in DUO awaiting publishing.|