Improving insight and non-insight problem solving with brief interventions

Ming Ching Wen, Laurie T. Butler, Wilma Koutstaal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Developing brief training interventions that benefit different forms of problem solving is challenging. In earlier research, Chrysikou (2006) showed that engaging in a task requiring generation of alternative uses of common objects improved subsequent insight problem solving. These benefits were attributed to a form of implicit transfer of processing involving enhanced construction of impromptu, on-the-spot or 'ad hoc' goal-directed categorizations of the problem elements. Following this, it is predicted that the alternative uses exercise should benefit abilities that govern goal-directed behaviour, such as fluid intelligence and executive functions. Similarly, an indirect intervention - self-affirmation (SA) - that has been shown to enhance cognitive and executive performance after self-regulation challenge and when under stereotype threat, may also increase adaptive goal-directed thinking and likewise should bolster problem-solving performance. In Experiment 1, brief single-session interventions, involving either alternative uses generation or SA, significantly enhanced both subsequent insight and visual-spatial fluid reasoning problem solving. In Experiment 2, we replicated the finding of benefits of both alternative uses generation and SA on subsequent insight problem-solving performance, and demonstrated that the underlying mechanism likely involves improved executive functioning. Even brief cognitive- and social-psychological interventions may substantially bolster different types of problem solving and may exert largely similar facilitatory effects on goal-directed behaviours.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-118
Number of pages22
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013


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