This Is Your Brain on Ideas

Momentarily tuning out the world seems to be a requirement for tapping into an insightful idea

Photo: Steve Prezant/Corbis

More often than not, the insight needed to solve a problem—whatever it is—arrives in a flash. One moment, your mind is a blank, and the next, a solution has materialized. In that split second, your brain turned in on itself, blocking out distractions from the outside world as it went into cognitive overdrive. 

As Fast Company reports, these moments have been the subject of intense scientific scrutiny for the past two decades or so, and lab experiments that monitored participants' brain activity during puzzle-solving have shown that people basically fall into one of two different categories.

More creative thinkers shut down their visual cortex while solving a problem, essentially blocking out the world for extended periods of time. Analytical thinkers, on the other hand, do the opposite. Their visual centers began working in overdrive as they focused on the specific task in front of them, Fast Company explains.

Most people, however, tended to have what researchers refer to as a "brain blink"—a moment of focused inward reflection—in the milliseconds just before they suddenly grasped the solution. As the researchers described it to Fast Company, "It’s a burst of activity that can happen at any time."

While we really can't force a eureka moment to occur, they added, getting adequate sleep and brainstorming while you're in a good mood are both factors that seem to encourage those precious kernels of insight. 

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