What Is Insight Learning And Insight Psychology?

Updated August 04, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

Have you ever wanted to know the answer to something, and then the answer appeared right in front of you without warning? Welcome to insight. Insight is a psychological phenomenon worth discussing, and in this post, we will tell you all about insight learning and insight psychology.

What Is Insight Learning?

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Insight learning is when you realize the solution to a problem or question without trial or error or continually trying to answer it. Insight learning may rely on previous experience for it to work.

Wolfgang Kohler first proposed it. He was a psychologist who helped found Gestalt psychology. He tested chimpanzees and made them solve problems. He realized that they could solve problems without having to go through trial and error or stimulus-response.

Trial and error are when someone repeatedly solves a problem until they get it right, and the stimulus-response association is when you learn to associate something with a stimulus. For example, if a dog hears a dinner bell every time he gets food, he will associate the bell with food, even if it’s ringing with no food present.

Chimps could solve problems without needing that. Insight can help people learn about cause and effect or figuring out what comes next based on the information you know now. Let’s discuss that chimpanzee experiment more for a second to find out more about insight and insight psychology.

The Chimpanzee Experiment

This experiment involved a chimp named Sultan. Sultan was hungry, and there were bananas outside its cage. In the cage, there were two bamboo sticks. One was long, and one was short. However, even the long one couldn’t grab the bananas. Instead, one needed to combine the sticks to make the length long enough.

Sultan tried using the sticks separately, and the poor chimp tried and tried, almost to the point of giving up. Then, he pushed the stick forward using the other stick, and the banana touched. That was the “aha” moment where Sultan learned that he should combine the two sticks. The next day, the experiment was tried again, and Sultan grabbed the bananas with no trouble at all. That is the gist of insight and insight learning.

The Two Characteristics Of Insight in Learning

Insight learning has two characteristics. First, insights see the situation. The other involves us not wanting to solve the problem by learning step-by-step, but instead unconsciously. Insight learning may feel sudden, but it usually doesn’t come suddenly based on anything. Instead, insight learning begins through intense methods of research. This is called the pre-solution period. For example, Sultan experimenting with the sticks. Then, there is idleness in the research, which is the time before the answer appears in front of you.

Knowing the idea won’t work alone. Someone needs time for the answer to come to them. Insight can depend on how long the event occurred and what the circumstances were. This can allow someone enough time to find the solution.

What Influences Insight

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Insight can influence many things. These include:

  • How much sleep you’ve gotten. One experiment divided people who had gotten an adequate amount of sleep for the night and people who had no sleep at all. Those who slept were able to double their insight compared to those who had to stay awake.
  • One’s emotional state can affect their insight performance. For example, if you’re in a more positive mood, you have a higher chance of using insight. If you’re in an anxious mood, this decreased your chances of solving problems.
  • Having breaks can improve insight. One experiment found that giving someone a break improved their insight compared to if someone had no break at all. So, how long did the break have to be to improve one’s insight? It doesn’t matter. It was found that whether the break was long or short helped the person find the answer they needed.
  • In the brain, insight seems to be influenced by temporal lobes in your brain, as well as the mid-frontal cortex. This has given us some, well, insight into how to brain processes insight.
  • Someone who performs in a group instead of solving a problem individually has a higher chance of reaching an insight. With more heads working on a problem together, the chances increase that someone will reach an answer. This especially applies if there is a short break between working and figuring out the problem.
  • Someone with a more open personality can solve an insight problem easier than someone who is more emotional and close-minded.
  • Someone who has a high IQ often performs better on an insight problem. However, a person with a low IQ benefits more from hints.
  • According to an Australian study, only 20 percent of people have claimed they have had a problem solved by insight. This may mean that insight may not apply to everyone.
  • When one experiences insight, they will suddenly change how they perceive a problem. People who have insight tend to be quick learners.
  • Insight is a sudden realization. There is no gradual piecing together of the answers, but instead a realization of the solution.
  • A person who experiences insight may view patterns in general or see a certain way that an object is organized. This helps them learn more.
  • Someone who is an insight learner has a strong sense of understanding.
  • Animals with higher intelligence experience insight. Animals with lower intelligence typically do not.
  • A child typically does not experience insight. Instead, insight improves with age, and adults are the best at using the skill.
  • Someone’s past experiences in life can be useful when realizing insight.
  • Insight learning may be associated with, well, associative learning, where one learns to find similarities in objects.
  • There is a difference between insight discovered in a lab and insight in a non-lab setting. In a natural environment, insight was a more gradual realization, and the concept of incubation didn’t matter as much.

Insight In Psychiatry

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In the field of psychiatry, as well as psychology itself, there is another definition of insight. In this field, insight is the awareness someone has of their own mental illness.

You probably know people who have a mental illness and are very aware of it, always speaking about how it affects them and what they do to treat it. They will talk about what medicines they take, how therapy went, and so on. On the other hand, you may know people who have an obvious mental illness, but they may not have any awareness of it at all and maybe defensive when told they have it.

Those who have less awareness do have some insight into their mental illness, but it’s seen as poor. Anosognosia is when someone has no awareness at all of their mental illness.

So who is aware and who is not? Someone with OCD, phobias, and depression probably knows they have a mental disorder and will actively treat it. Sometimes, the medication they take may reduce insight, but that all depends.

Meanwhile, someone with psychosis or schizophrenia may have less awareness. They may believe their hallucinations are real and that anyone who says they’re ill is trying to deceive them. The solution to someone who has no awareness seems to be cognitive behavioral therapy.

And that is the gist of insight. Insight can be a valuable way to solve problems, and in the psychiatric definition, seek the help you need. It is interesting how we learn how to solve problems and how the brain can provide solutions at the most convenient or inconvenient time. As we further study the brain, we may find out more reasons for how the brain works and solves problems.


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