Light bulbs do more than illuminate

The lowly light bulbThanks to countless cartoons and comic strips, the light bulb is the most common icon for the moment of epiphany, the flash of insight when a new idea occurs to us. Turns out that a picture of a light bulb is good for more than just symbolizing insight; it seems to stimulate insight.

Previous research has characterized insight as the product of internal processes, and has thus investigated the cognitive and motivational processes that immediately precede it. In this research, however, we investigate whether insight can be catalyzed by a cultural artifact, an external object imbued with learned meaning. Specifically, we exposed participants to an illuminating lightbulb – an iconic image of insight – prior to or during insight problem-solving. Across four studies, exposing participants to an illuminating lightbulb primed concepts associated with achieving an insight, and enhanced insight problem-solving in three different domains (spatial, verbal, and mathematical), but did not enhance general (non-insight) problem-solving.

Hat tip: Jonah Lehrer.

Image credit: Davide Guglielmo/stock.xchg.

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