Secondly, an unspillable cup with a straw, and another


Secondly, I found that most of the
reports and experiments on the effects of knowledge and experience on creative
insight that I came across while researching this paper were inapplicable
at a universal level. Research usually focused on novices or
people working on novel problems, and as such could not really provide
much information on the effect of knowledge and experience on insight as a
whole. Therefore, a generalisation of the results beyond novices cannot be
applied because of the focus placed specifically on novice creative insights. 
A focus should rather be placed on looking at creative insights of novices
versus experts in certain fields to further understand the effect
of knowledge and experience on insight.

 To demonstrate this, consider the unspillable
cup problem. (Jansson & Smith, 1991)  In the experiment, students were asked to
design an unspillable coffee cup without using a straw. One group of students
were shown a design of an unspillable cup with a straw, and another group were
not shown anything. The students who were shown the design, ended up finding it
more difficult to create a design compare to the control group; a significant
amount of students presented designs with a straw even though they were
specifically told not to do so. This could be an example of how the information
they were given – the design with the straw – limited them, hence, showing that
some sort of knowledge can hinder creative insight. However, it cannot be
denied that in order for creative insight to occur in the first place, one must
have some sort of knowledge on the subject at hand. Furthermore, if one has
more experience in the field at hand, it is more possible for one to overcome
the restraint certain information can have. For example, an expert engineer
would be able to solve the cup problem despite the limits because of their
expertise in the field. However, in this case, one cannot be sure creative
insight is taking place, as this might not be a new idea for experts.

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The candle stick problem (Duncker,
1945) also gives rise to similar criticisms. In this experiment, participants
were asked to attach a candle to a wall with only a matchbox with matches and a
candle. The results showed that when subjects were shown the matches outside
the matchbox, they were more likely to solve the problem than subjects that
were shown the matchbox with the matches inside. This indicates that the
information (of the matchbox not serving its original function) helps
restructure the problem in a way where the solution can be more easily reached.

It suggests that our experience has accustomed us to think of the function of
the matchbox to be a container rather than a support or holder. Perhaps if we
had not known its function, we would have reached insight easier. However, like
the cup problem, we can only assume this through studying the results of the
experiment as it uses novices to perform novice tasks. It also does not address
the possibility of domain- specific creativity, where for example, craft-
oriented people might be more imaginative with the materials because of their
experience in that field.

There are also theories that suggest
that the knowledge needed to solve the problem must already be stored in the
subject’s brain, and that insight is just linking the knowledge to the problem
at hand. Weisberg (2015) proposes that creativity consists primarily of
ordinary cognitive processes that give way to extraordinary products. Using the
candle problem aforementioned, he proposes that creative insight occurs when
subjects use conventional cognitive processes and apply them to the knowledge
they already have. (Sternberg 2006) In this event, insight would involve a
sophisticated interaction between convergent and divergent cognitive processes.

(Goel, 2014).

The two-string problem (Maier
1931)  is a slightly fairer task in that
it is less specific to certain domains. Participants are asked to tie two
strings together which are hanging from the ceiling and are  given a plier as their only material.

However, the strings are placed with enough distance between them that the
participant cannot hold both ends simultaneously. The solution is to tie the
plier to the end of one string and use it as a pendulum to be able to tie the
two ends together. It would be interesting to use this test among different
domains and experience levels at undergraduate and graduate levels in a variety
of courses, as it would serve as a good balance between having the capacity
(enough knowledge) to be able to find the solution without having an advantage
of knowing more than others and not undergoing insight at all.

Creative insight, more specifically the
“aha” phenomenon used in Gestalt psychology can be defined as a sudden moment
of distinct understanding, that reconstructs the problem in a way that makes
the solution clear. (Sternberg and Davidson, 1995;
Irvine, 2015). Insight primarily depends on the cognitive process. An
insightful problem-solving process will include the subject not being aware of
how the insight was reached, unlike analytic processes which included a more
deliberate and systematic approach. (Topolinski and Reber, 2010).  Gestalt psychologists also referred to it as
‘reproductive thinking’, as the same process of problem solving used for
problems similar to the one presented. In this mode of thinking, the subject
makes conscious, steady incremental progress, whereas in the second mode,
insight occurs suddenly and undeliberate. However, recent proposals also
suggest that there is less of a distinction between the two modes, and that
there are various ways to achieve insight in a problem. An insightful mode of
thinking depends on unconscious processes; intuition, and this is why the
individual is not likely to trace the steps that led to the solution. 

The Gestalt “aha” phenomenon originally
referred to open-ended situations, such as those presented in Kohler’s 1925
study of chimpanzees. However, more recently it refers to a more specific type
of problem solving, in which one undergoes a stage of impasse before the
reconstruction of the problem. (Sternberg and
Davidson, 1995) Due to its non- analytical process, it has become an
important part of creativity. Another interesting aspect of creative insight is
that it does not always reveal the correct solution. In fact, subjects may
undergo many “mini- insights”, analysing possible solutions where they will
consider the outcome of each before arriving to a conclusion. (Hélie and Sun,
2010) The brain’s activity before the moment of insight can be
studied in neuroscience to reveal whether the problem was solved using insight
strategies. (Kounios et al., 2006) From a neurological perspective, insight
occurs when neurons in the brain suddenly create connections that had not
previously existed.

The special-process view, which was
proposed by Gestalt psychologists, suggests that insight is the result of a
specific set of processes (the “insight sequence”) that is activated when the
subject has reached a moment of impasse while trying to deal with a problem at
hand. Gestalt psychologists also proposed that achieving understanding and
insight typically requires that one put aside one’s knowledge and attempt to
deal with the problem “on its merits” (Wertheimer, 1982).

In order for insight to be tested and
recorded, the problem must be ill-defined. This broadens the problem space,
often leading the subject away from the solution. Insight in ill-defined
problems will occur after a stage of impasse, after which a sudden change in
representation allows the solution to be reached; the “aha” phenomenon. Webb, M. E., Little,
D. R., & Cropper, S. J., 2016)

The more popular version of this
argument is directed specifically at how education impedes creativity. Although
this addresses creativity in general, which differs to insight as it is not
temporally restricted, it is implied that creative insight is included in the
creativity of people. Psychologist Michael Michalko believes that education has
become an inhibitor of natural creativity, that “those who know more,
create less; and those who know less create more” TED speaker Ken Robinson
has similar beliefs. However, the counter-argument is usually that it is
difficult to be creative in a field when one is not already an expert in that
field and that a person must have some sort of knowledge or experience in the
field of interest in order to gain creative insights.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to
produce empirical evidence that education reduces creativity because of its
complexity and subjective measurement, and thus the majority of the supporting
claims are based on anecdotes, which, are usually subject-specific, or include
teaching methods that are no longer in use in most education systems today. As
well as that, Nobel Laureates, most of whom have had experience in higher
education systems, yet have still managed to create original research or
literature, could be used as evidence against the argument. 

A recent study was also done by the
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), using data from the annual American
Community Survey and the quarterly census of employment and wages which
concluded that while people in creative industries make up only 1.4% of
America’s total labour market, they are highly entrepreneurial and twice as
likely to have college degrees. Therefore, this evidence cannot
conclusively disprove the idea that education stifles creativity. 

In a recent study conducted by Kim and
Zhong, (2107) results suggested that structured knowledge hinders creativity.

In the experiments, participants were shown a group of nouns that were
organized into categories, and a group that was not. The task was to make as
many sentences as they could with the words given.  The other experiment
participants were told to make an alien out of a box of bricks that were
organized by shape and colour, and one that was unorganised. Kim concluded that
“hierarchical information structure, compared to a flat information structure,
will reduce creativity because it reduces cognitive flexibility”. A criticism
of this experiment is that it seems quite expected that the second task would
produce more unusual results if picked from an assortment; it is less about the
participants’ creativity being measured. I would agree that from working with
more unusual objects, participants may gain a broader perspective and therefore
have less limitations in their creative work, however I do not think this
measure should be used to measure creativity in an experiment as such. 

One of the main limitations of studies
done on creative insight, specifically how knowledge and experience affect it,
is that there is very limited information on how insight occurs and how it is
experienced. In the Cosmelli and Preiss study of 2014 on the temporality of
creative insight, the phenomenological perspective was taken to study creative
insight. The authors believed that the phenomenological approach would reveal
how “the temporal nuances of the experience of insights highlights the
past-oriented and future-looking dimensions of insight”; the idea that insight
represents something that seems both familiar and new simultaneously. This
would support Weisberg’s aforementioned idea that it is the link between
knowledge already stored in memory, with the problem at hand which causes
insight, which would give the sense of the past-oriented and future-looking

While it is suggested by previous
examples that extensive knowledge and experience can hinder creative insight,
it is also argued that true creative insights can only occur if the subject is
a master of specialised knowledge in a certain field. (Cosmelli and Preiss).

However, this is referring to creative insights that form ideas that are new to
the world, and does not address insights one might experience to solve a
problem, that appear as a new perspective to the subject nonetheless.

Furthermore, neuroscientist Paul King supports this by explaining how when the
brain is used repetitively for similar functions and processes, the better it
will get at working in that field, and that therefore, by experiencing new
things every day, your brain is more flexible to create connections between
ideas. (Christensen, 2012)

A study was done by Shen, W., Yuan et
al. (2016) investigating whether creative insight is task specific which showed
the first neural evidence for the task independence of insight. Results were
gathered using fMRI on three types of insight problem-solving tasks, and showed
that each of them used various distinct, non-overlapping areas of the brain.

This study suggested that creative insight is a diverse process, touching upon
the idea that knowledge and experience cause connections in different parts of
the brain during moments of insight. Previously existing connections across
brain areas then make it easier for more connection to be made in the same
domain with experience.

An interesting perspective although
slightly at variance from the topic, was the study of how specific experiences
can affect creative insight. Marie Forgeard conducted a research survey looking
at perceived self-creativity and how it relates to adverse life experiences and
found a correlation with creativity and psychological orders and negative life
events. It suggested that that people in emotional distress may deal with
trauma through creative activities, and that certain events and experience can
lead them to gain fresh insights. Although the survey research report on
perceived creativity is extremely subjective and doesn’t produce any empirical
results, the topic is one that should be further explored in order to better
understand how the psychological well-being of a person can also affect
creative insight.