Aha Moments

What are Aha! moments?

Do you pay attention to your Aha! moments?  You should. Do you know how to tell when you’ve had one? Do you even know what an Aha! moment is?  It’s a lot more than one of Oprah’s pithy phrases to help market her lifestyle brand. There’s strong science that shows these moments affect how we learn and even how we think.  This post is going to go into what an Aha! moment is and briefly discuss how these moments affect our learning and thought processes.

Humans have been fascinated with Aha! moments since Archimedes discovered how to measure the volume of an irregular object while bathing and ran through the streets naked while shouting “Eureka!”.  These Aha! moments, or Eureka moments are also known as moments of insight or epiphanies.  All of these terms describe can be used to describe the same sensation.

Aha! moments are a two stage process.

In the first stage, the brain is engaged in problem solving and may experience feelings of curiosity, frustration or puzzlement.  Then in the second stage there is a sudden transition to understanding, usually accompanied by a sensation of pleasure. This feeling of pleasure that occurs when the brain discovers a solution to a previously unsolved problem is the Aha! moment.

Aha! moments and memory

One reason these moments are important is their ability to improve memory around the Aha! moment topic. Research has shown that recall is improved for instances where information was learned though Aha! moments.  So learning that occurs from an Aha! moment is more easily accessed than learning that occurs through direct exposure information or stimuli. ¹

Another reason that these moments are important is that they can help form or shift neural pathways.  Neural pathways are patterns of thought and processing in the brain. Every time we have a thought our brains either creating or reinforcing a neural pathway and these pathways become stronger the more frequently they are used.  This is not a bad thing, but we all know that you can’t solve an old problem with old ways of thinking.  Solving problems require thinking outside of the box. Aha! moments allow us to shift neural pathways to approach problems from a different direction- literally a different direction of thought within the brain.

Look for Aha! moments in your life

So pay attention to your Aha! moments and seek out experiences that help them to form. These moments are indications of productive thinking in the brain and just might help you solve a problem you’ve been working on if you allow yourself to shift your patterns of thought.

¹ Auble, P., Franks, J., Soraci, S. (1979) “Effort toward comprehension: Elaboration or aha!?” Memory & Cognition 7, 426–434.