A “Small-World” Network Model of Cognitive Insight

Despite many decades of study, scientists still puzzle over the process of insight. By what mechanism does a person experience that “Aha!” moment, when sudden clarity emerges from a tangled web of thoughts and ideas? This research integrates psychological work on insight with graph theoretic work on “small-world” phenomenon, to construct a theory that explains how insight occurs, how it is similar to and different from more typical learning processes, and why it yields an affective response in the individual. I propose that cognitive insight occurs when an atypical association, forged through random recombination or directed search, results in a “shortcut” in an individual’s network of  representations. This causes a rapid decrease in path length, reorients the individual’s understanding of the relationships within and among the affected representations, and can prompt a cascade of other connections. This result is demonstrated by applying graph theoretical analysis to network translations of commonly used insight problems.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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