Much Ado About Aha!: Insight Problem Solving Is Strongly Related to Working Memory Capacity and Reasoning Ability

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Abstract

A battery comprising 4 fluid reasoning tests as well as 13 working memory (WM) tasks that involved storage, recall, updating, binding, and executive control, was applied to 318 adults in order to evaluate the true relationship of reasoning ability and WM capacity (WMC) to insight problem solving, measured using 40 verbal, spatial, math, matchstick, and remote associates problems (insight problems). WMC predicted 51.8% of variance in insight problem solving and virtually explained its almost isomorphic link to reasoning ability (84.6% of shared variance). The strong link between WMC and insight pertained generally to most WM tasks and insight problems, was identical for problems solved with and without reported insight, was linear throughout the ability levels, and was not mediated by age, motivation, anxiety, psychoticism, and openness to experience. In contrast to popular views on the sudden and holistic nature of insight, the solving of insight problems results primarily from typical operations carried out by the basic WM mechanisms that are responsible for the maintenance, retrieval, transformation, and control of information in the broad range of intellectual tasks (including fluid reasoning). Little above and beyond WM is unique about insight.

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