Emotion and Insight: The physiological and psychological experience of positive and negative insight through qualitative exploration of everyday experience and quantitative investigation using problem solving tasks

Hill, Gillian (2017) Emotion and Insight: The physiological and psychological experience of positive and negative insight through qualitative exploration of everyday experience and quantitative investigation using problem solving tasks. Doctoral thesis, University of Buckingham.


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An insight moment is defined as a sudden new idea, understanding or solution to a problem accompanied by an Aha experience. Typically researchers have described this experience in terms of positive emotions, with a recent shift in focus from purely cognitive aspects to explore the phenomenology of insight. Taking such an approach, this thesis firstly identifies that the historical research focus on cognitive, experimental methods in the study of insight may have led to an incomplete definition. A series of qualitative studies were therefore undertaken to characterise everyday experience of insight. Firstly an online questionnaire collected 76 open, qualitative descriptions of everyday insight moments. These were analysed by an adapted qualitative method, Integrative Thematic Analysis (ITA); developed within this thesis to minimise the effects of researcher subjectivity bias. Results identified a typology of insight, with themes describing the Process (Time Away, Active Search, Social Facilitation), Content (Intellectual, Practical, Personal) and Feeling (Positive and Negative) aspects of insight. These findings represent the documentation of negative insight in research for the first time. A follow up study using the same methodology was then conducted to specifically record everyday experiences of negative insight. ITA and Deductive Content Analysis were performed on the 67 insight descriptions collected. Findings suggest a functional role of everyday negative insight as a problem finding process, which is not recognized in current definitions of insight framed as a positive event. As a result, this thesis proposes the development of an updated definition of the insight moment for further experimental testing as: A sudden new understanding, realisation or idea that is accompanied by a positive feeling Aha moment, or negative feeling Uh-oh moment. A third qualitative study was then conducted to record everyday insight moments in real-time, using a diary methodology and event contingent sampling in a focused sample of 11 participants. This aimed to explore the prevalence of insight in in real-time in everyday life for the first time. Follow-up semi-structured interviews with participants were then conducted that intended to enable rich accounts of their insight experiences. Insight moments were shown to be rare, with few reports made during the participants' week of recording. This corresponds with researchers expectations in terms of prevalence but was shown to contrast to the participants who were surprised by how few insights they experienced. Furthermore, the de-brief interviews identified some participants who reported never experiencing insight, corroborating other recent research suggesting that the insight moment might not be a universal experience. ITA identified themes, including Individual Differences in insight, where participants suggested that differences in factors such as trait emotionality may affect how people experience insight. The emotional aspects of insight identified from the qualitative studies were then explored in two laboratory-based experiments. Psychological and physiological aspects implicated in previous insight and emotion research were measured including: emotional expressivity (Berkeley Expressivity Questionnaire), interoceptive accuracy (Heart Beat Counting [HBC] task) and heart rate [HR]. In Study 4, 79 participants completed Compound Remote Associates, an established problem solving task that elicits positive insight and search experiences. No relationship was seen between emotional expressivity or heart beat counting accuracy and performance (proportion of insight and search reported) on the CRA. Different HR changes were shown between insight and search trials, with decreased deceleration in insight. A biphasic HR change response was seen for both solving types that was congruent to HR changes shown in previous research in response to emotional stimuli. Study 5, then aimed to explore the same measures using a problem solving task that in addition, elicited negative insight. In order to do this, a novel paradigm was developed, using Connect 4 as a naturalistic problem solving task. This was demonstrated to elicit the full range of problem solving experiences, positive and negative, insight and search in a sample of 80 participants. No associations were seen between solving performance and emotional expressivity or heart beat counting accuracy. HR change patterns seen in Study 4 were replicated, with greater HR decreases for search compared to insight trials, although evidence was less clear in terms of the biphasic response. The utility of Connect 4 as a naturalistic problem solving task was demonstrated by Study 5, however limitations in the computer-based version of the game developed in this thesis were also identified. As such, future research is recommended with an improved version Connect 4 to enable more robust conclusions to be drawn. In addition, the limitations of the proportion of insight, a problem solving performance measure, were also highlighted. Therefore, future work to better validate this measure in laboratory based tasks, and in relation to everyday insight experience are proposed. The findings in this thesis are discussed in terms of wider impact, in relation to applied fields beyond academic study. For example, in Counselling Psychology where insight is seen as a central process in therapeutic change, there are implications in terms of individuals who do not report having insight. Furthermore, everyday creativity including experiencing insight has been demonstrated elsewhere to relate to flourishing and wellbeing, with this research offering corroboration in terms of the positive experiences reported in relation to insight. This thesis contributes to our knowledge in first offering an updated and ecologically validated definition of insight. Furthermore it highlights the role of emotion in insight experience and corroborates the phenomenological approach that is now being seen in insight research. Finally, it identifies a possible somatic marker in HR, to distinguish insight and search solving. In addition, novel methods of qualitative analysis (ITA) and a naturalistic experimental problem solving (Connect 4) have been developed.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Insight moments; emotions; aha experiences
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: School of Science > Psychology
Depositing User: Diana Hilmer
Date Deposited: 29 Nov 2017 17:09
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2017 17:09
URI: http://bear.buckingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/233

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