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It’s a kind of magic – what self-reports can reveal about the phenomenology of insight problem solving

Front Psychol 5: 1408. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01408

Authors/Editors: Danek AH
Grothe B
von Müller A
Öllinger M
Publication Date: 2014
Type of Publication: Journal Articles 2001 - 2017


Magic tricks usually remain a mystery to the observer. For the sake of science, we offered participants the opportunity to discover the magician's secret method by repeatedly presenting the same trick and asking them to find out how the trick worked. In the context of insightful problem solving, the present work investigated the emotions that participants experience upon solving a magic trick. We assumed that these emotions form the typical "Aha! experience" that accompanies insightful solutions to difficult problems. We aimed to show that Aha! experiences can be triggered by magic tricks and to systematically explore the phenomenology of the Aha! experience by breaking it down into five previously postulated dimensions. 34 video clips of different magic tricks were presented up to three times to 50 participants who had to find out how the trick was accomplished, and to indicate whether they had experienced an Aha! during the solving process. Participants then performed a comprehensive quantitative and qualitative assessment of their Aha! experiences which was repeated after 14 days to control for its reliability. 41% of all suggested solutions were accompanied by an Aha! experience. The quantitative assessment remained stable across time in all five dimensions. Happiness was rated as the most important dimension. This primacy of positive emotions was also reflected in participants' qualitative self-reports which contained more emotional than cognitive aspects. Implementing magic tricks as problem solving task, we could show that strong Aha! experiences can be triggered if a trick is solved. We could at least partially capture the phenomenology of Aha! by identifying one prevailing aspect (positive emotions), a new aspect (release of tension upon gaining insight into a magic trick) and one less important aspect (impasse).

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