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Neural correlates of the ‘Aha! reaction

Luo, Jing1 3; Niki, Kazuhisa2 3 CA; Phillips, Steven2 3


An ‘Aha! reaction’ is a brief moment of exceptional thinking where an unexpected change in one's mental perspective reveals the solution to an otherwise intractable problem. In this event-related fMRI study, subjects read incomprehensible sentences followed by solution cues that were used to evoke such a reaction by triggering an alternative interpretation of the critical concepts. For 73% of the trials, subjects attributed their failure in the initial stage of sentence presentation to “having thought about it in another direction”. This behavior implies that the breaking of mental impasse is a critical component of the Aha! reaction phenomenon. During the Aha! reaction we observed anterior cingulate and left lateral prefrontal cortical activation, which are two areas known to mediate cognitive conflict.

1Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

2Neuroscience Research Institute, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Tsukuba central-2, 1-1-1 Umezono, Tsukuba, Ibaraki

3Brainscience and Education, RISTEX, JST, Tokyo, Japan

CA,2Corresponding Author and Address:

Received 21 May 2004; accepted 12 July 2004

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.