The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight

Posted: 8 Jan 2014

See all articles by John Kounios

John Kounios

Drexel University

Mark Beeman

Northwestern University - Department of Psychology

Date Written: January 2014


Insight occurs when a person suddenly reinterprets a stimulus, situation, or event to produce a nonobvious, nondominant interpretation. This can take the form of a solution to a problem (an “aha moment”), comprehension of a joke or metaphor, or recognition of an ambiguous percept. Insight research began a century ago, but neuroimaging and electrophysiological techniques have been applied to its study only during the past decade. Recent work has revealed insight-related coarse semantic coding in the right hemisphere and internally focused attention preceding and during problem solving. Individual differences in the tendency to solve problems insightfully rather than in a deliberate, analytic fashion are associated with different patterns of resting-state brain activity. Recent studies have begun to apply direct brain stimulation to facilitate insight. In sum, the cognitive neuroscience of insight is an exciting new area of research with connections to fundamental neurocognitive processes.

Suggested Citation

Kounios, John and Beeman, Mark, The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight (January 2014). Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 65, pp. 71-93, 2014, Available at SSRN: or

John Kounios (Contact Author)

Drexel University ( email )

3141 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Mark Beeman

Northwestern University - Department of Psychology ( email )

Evanston, IL
United States

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