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Mark Beeman

Associate Professor of Psychology
Cognitive Neuroscience Program
Department of Psychology
Northwestern University
2029 Sheridan Rd
Evanston IL 60208-2710

Phone: (847) 491-4617
Fax: (847) 491-7859
Office: Cresap 104

Insight in the Brain


Dec 2010 story in New York Times


2008 story in...

See "The Eureka Hunt" by Jonah Lehrer, in July 28, 2008 New Yorker.


See webpage of my collaborator, John Kounios

Recent papers on insight

Brain bases of how positive mood facilitates insight: Subramniam et al., 2009 Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

    In this paper, we reveal that activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a midline frontal area associated with cognitive control, increases when people are in a positive mood - and that this positive mood increases insight problem solving. The activity increase is manifest during a resting "prepatory period" prior to each problem - the same type of effect we see when people end up solving problems by insight (see Psych Sci paper below).

Kounios, Preparation for insight (brain acitivity BEFORE each problem predicts insight vs analytic solving). Kounios et al., Psychological Science, 2006.

    In this paper, we reveal that brain activity flucturates prior to each new problem,during a resting "prepatory period" . Different patterns of activity occur prior to problems that people solve with insight versus prior to problems they solve more analytically. In the prep period before getting problems subsequently solved with insight, people have greater activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a midline frontal area associated with cognitive control, and in bilateral temporal areas associated with semantic processing.

Resting state brain activity in people more or less likely to solve with insight:  Kounios, et al., Neuropsychologia   (2008).

   Ever wonder why some people are better at finding insight or creative solutions? Here, we show different patterns of brain activity in high-insight versus low-insight anagram solvers, when people are completely at rest (before they even know what the experiment is about).

Review & Commentary on methods in Methods: Bowden& Jung-Beeman, (2007).


PLoS Biology, 2004: Brain activity at the moment of insight

Animation of EEG gamma effect at Aha! moment [270 KB]


PLoS Biology (2004)

Supplemental information


In two experiments, we observed objective neural correlates of insight: fMRI revealed increased activity in the right hemisphere anterior Superior Temporal Gyrus for insight relative to noninsight solutions. The same region was active during initial solving efforts, demonstrating this area is not involved solely in an emotional response to the solution.

In addition, EEG revealed a sudden burst of high-frequency (gamma-band) neural activity in the same area beginning about a third of a second prior to insight solutions.

This right anterior temporal area helps make connections across distantly related information during comprehension. Although all problem solving relies on a largely shared cortical network, the sudden flash of insight occurs when solvers engage distinct neural and cognitive processes that allow them to see connections that previously eluded them.


.GIF format 270 KB
Animation of the last half second (from -0.5 to -0.2) of high-frequency electrical activity at the scalp prior to the button press indicating subjects had solved a problem with insight.
.AVI format 11 MB

[Picture of Brain with Lightbulb]

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Copyright 2004 Mark Jung-Beeman.

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