What happens during the “aha!” moment?

    • Topic: Human Biology

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    Most people have experienced trying to figure something out with only partial information – seeing a billboard quickly as they drive past or not quite hearing everything that someone said. When these things happen we have to use what we already know to make sense of what we may have just seen or heard. We’re interested in understanding how people gain insight when they only see part of the picture.

    In this study people (all ages) will view “blobby” images – pictures that have been altered so that it is hard to figure out what they might be. They will be asked if they could identify what was in the picture, what they believe they saw, and how confident they are in what they believe they saw. They will then be shown a clear picture, followed by another blobby image. We are interested in figuring out if seeing whole pictures helps people figure out the ones that were previously unclear. We will also ask a few background questions.

    We predict that background knowledge will improve people’s ability to figure out what is shown in images that are difficult to see clearly and understand.

    This study will help us better understand how people solve problems. Our findings will be especially helpful for understanding how to help people reach a sudden insight into a problem that they have previously been unable to solve.

    Northeastern Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory

        » Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    Quick and Distracted

    Find the “Are You Paying Attention” link station in the Time environment. Test your ability to make decisions based on incomplete information while also being distracted.

    In this activity you will see squares made up of red and blue dots and will need to decide which color you see more of. The challenge is that the information you receive is incomplete – the squares flash by quickly – and there will be other pictures on the screen. Do you experience any “aha!” moments? Is there anything you could do to help gain insight into what you’ve seen?

    Activities to Try at Home

    What Did You Say Again?

    Find a song you haven’t heard before and try to learn the lyrics. Once you think you know them, find the original lyrics and compare. Did you get everything correct or did you get a few phases wrong? Think about the phrase you came up with – Did it make sense as a phrase and, if so, did it make sense in the context of the song? What knowledge did you use to make sense of what you heard? Now that you know the correct lyrics, do you still hear what you thought you did before?

    If you are doing this activity with a child any song should provide a challenge, but adults might want to look for songs being sung quickly or by someone with an accent different from yours.

    To continue exploring your insights, try this activity again with a song in a language you don’t know. This time your background knowledge is limited to common sounds in languages. How much harder is this? Did this make you think differently about the background knowledge you relied on the first time?

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