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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2016 Jan;42(1):39-49. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000152. Epub 2015 Jun 29.

When higher working memory capacity hinders insight.

Author information

1
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Louisville.
2
Department of Psychological Science, Albion College.

Abstract

Higher working memory capacity (WMC) improves performance on a range of cognitive and academic tasks. However, a greater ability to control attention sometimes leads individuals with higher WMC to persist in using complex, attention-demanding approaches that are suboptimal for a given task. We examined whether higher WMC would hinder insight problem solving, which is thought to rely on associative processes that operate largely outside of close attentional control. In addition, we examined whether characteristics of the insight problems influence whether this negative relationship will be revealed. In Experiment 1, participants completed matchstick arithmetic problems, which require a similar initial problem representation for all problems. Higher WMC was associated with less accurate insight problem solving. In Experiment 2, participants completed insight word problems, which require substantially different representations for each problem. Higher WMC was again negatively associated with insight, but only after statistically controlling for shared variance between insight and incremental problem-solving accuracy. These findings suggest that WMC may benefit performance on fundamental processes common to both incremental and insight problem solving (e.g., initial problem representation), but hinder performance on the processes that are unique to insight (e.g., solution and restructuring). By considering the WMC of the individual, and the nature of the insight task, we may better understand the process of insight and how to best support it. (PsycINFO Database Record.

PMID:
26120772
DOI:
10.1037/xlm0000152
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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