Insight Problems

In the psychologist’s laboratory, insight problem solving research usually proceeds by presenting participants a riddle, such as “the thing that can move heavy logs, but cannot move a small nail” or “how do you throw a ping pong ball in such a way that it travels a certain distance, comes to a dead stop and then reverses direction” or “if you have black socks and brown socks in your drawer mixed in the ration of 4:5, how many socks do you need to take out to be sure of having a pair of the same colour”. These riddles are designed to encourage an incorrect interpretation, to create a conceptual impasse. Psychologists are interested in capturing and describing how the impasse is overcome. Researchers in the Creative Cognition Lab are keen to explore how people solve these kinds of problems when they can interact with a physical model of the problem. They distinguish between first order and second order problem solving). Second order problem solving is conducted on the basis of representations of the world and proceeds from participants’ interpretation and representations of these representations. In other words, the problems that could arise in a physical world, corresponding to physical processes of varying complexity, are presented as second-order abstractions. In contrast, first order problem solving is done with and through the world. Thus, CCL researchers aim to determine how the origins of new ideas, or the solution to these so-called insight problems, are distilled through action.

The Triangle of Coins is a classic insight problem task. It requires the problem solver to invert a triangle by only moving three coins. It is commonly solved with a feeling of insight. Across a series of experiments, we are exploring how latency to solution is influenced by the affordances of the problem presentation and the level of engagement with that movable environment allowed and used by the participant.