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AAL Newsletter

Book Review: The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain

by Jessica Merrill, AAL Project Manager

Jessica Merrill for web

We have all experienced some variation of what is popularly called the “aha” moment: you suddenly recall an acquaintance’s name you have forgotten, weeks after your encounter, for no apparent reason. The solution to a seemingly intractable problem your team has worked on for months finally reveals itself, as if appearing out of thin air. If you’re Paul McCartney, the melody to “Yesterday” comes to you, fully formed, packaged inside of a dream.

While these bursts of creativity and insight may seem random, advances in neuroscience and brain imaging can now give us unprecedented access to the mind at work, providing us with a clearer understanding of how these “eureka” moments occur (and what it looks like when they do). For example, we now know that the brain’s right hemisphere literally “lights up” on an EEG graph when experiencing insight. In The Eureka Factor, authors John Kounios, Ph.D. and Mark Beeman, Ph.D., both psychology professors with backgrounds in neuro- and cognitive science, demonstrate through several ingenious studies how insight manifests itself in the brain.1

However, the true value of this book lies in the practical, research-based tips it offers readers in order to create more moments of insight in their own lives. For instance, did you know that sensory deprivation is helpful in problem solving? (In other words, when you get stuck—turn off the lights! Better yet, take a shower.) Furthermore, your most “creative” time of day will typically be when your analytical powers are at their lowest point—meaning that if you are a person who is most efficient and sharp in the morning, save your broad-thinking, creative work for the nighttime.

True, creative thinking may come more easily to some than to others–the book draws a distinction between “Insightfuls” and “Analysts”; you can probably guess which type is more receptive to those elusive “aha” moments–but as The Eureka Factor posits, anyone can increase the frequency of insights in his or her life by understanding the brain science behind “aha” moments, and cultivating the conditions necessary for them to occur.

1Kounios, J and Beeman, M. The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain. New York: Random House, 2015.

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