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How ‘Aha’ Moments Are Etched in Memory

How Aha Moments Are Etched in Memory We usually remember those moments of sudden insight, and new research examines this phenomenon as investigators look to determine how the brain imprints the aha! discovery.

“In daily life, information that results from moments of insight is, almost by definition, incorporated in long-term memory: Once we have realized a new way to solve a problem, or to perform a task better and faster, we are not likely to forget that insight easily,” said Nava Rubin, Ph.D., senior author of a new brain-imaging study that looks at the neural activity associated with this specific type of rapid learning, insight.

“We were interested in determining the neural basis of this long-lasting nature of insight.”

Rubin, along with collaborators Rachel Ludmer and neurobiologist Dr. Yadin Dudai, designed a model system for studying memory formation associated with perceptual insight. Perceptual insight is where the sudden realization of a solution to a visual puzzle is triggered by an external cue.

Study participants viewed a real-world image that had been degraded almost beyond recognition. After a few moments the original image was revealed, transforming the previously meaningless arrangement of ink blots to a coherent scene (the “aha!”).

Memory was tested a week later when participants were shown the degraded image again and asked to recall detailed perceptual information about the original image.

Brain imaging allowed the researchers to capture the neural activity associated with the original moment of insight and relate it to the subsequent fate of the image in memory.

During moments of insight, there was significant activity in the amygdala, a brain structure best known for its role in emotional learning. The researchers discovered that higher activity in the amygdala during the moment of insight predicted more successful performance in the memory task a week later, even though the images in and of themselves were not emotional at all.

“We propose that the amygdala plays an important role in signaling to different cortical regions that an internal event of significant neural reorganization has occurred,” concluded Rubin.

“Our findings extend the known roles of the amygdala in memory to include promoting of long-term memory of the sudden reorganization of internal representations.”

Source: Cell Press

How ‘Aha’ Moments Are Etched in Memory

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). How ‘Aha’ Moments Are Etched in Memory. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 11 Mar 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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