Problem solving

Led by George Georgiou and Kenneth Gilhooly this research explores problem-solving, creativity, and decision making. In particular incubation effects, insight, creative problem-solving, divergent thinking, and associated unconscious processes.

Incubation in creative problem-solving

Most people can typically recall a situation where they have struggled to progress with finding a solution to a problem (impasse) and that after some time away from consciously addressing the problem, the solution then comes more easily. This has been termed an ‘incubation’ effect. We are seeking to understand the cognitive processes involved in incubation effects, and the potential psychological mechanisms that can best account for this phenomenon.

Using divergent thinking tasks, we have found higher creative fluency following immediate (vs delayed) incubation and where the target and interpolated tasks are incongruent. Our findings suggest that unconscious processing is potentially a key mechanism involved in incubation effects.

How insight problems are solved

How do people tackle “insight” problems that require a change in the way that it is understood? For example, understanding how someone could walk over a lake requires that the lake be represented as not in its normal state (maybe it is a severe winter at the time).

It seems that deliberate searching for alternative ways of understanding key words is involved. This suggests that insight problem solving can be understood as a non-mysterious process.

Creative thinking

We are seeking to understand how people carry out a creative thinking task (eg, “think of as many different uses as you can for a brick”). People were asked to think out loud while doing this task.

We found that after producing uses from memory people switch to scanning the objects’ properties to suggest uses or scan broad possible uses that could be applied (eg, Use as furniture? As food? As transport?).