Insight is a form of comprehension that results in the connection between two hitherto unappreciated, unacknowledged, or simply unknown ideas and, consequently, expands the realm of the possible. Making these connections is a powerful driver of creativity and innovation. As a putative cognitive process, insight has exercised psychological researchers for over 100 years. Efforts to capture insight under laboratory conditions are constrained by exigencies of operationalization and control, as well as by an implicit ontological position that casts insight as a property of the brain. As a result, psychological research has focused on what we term second-order problem-solving, which is reasoning triggered by problems presented as propositions that describe states of the world. People are tasked with finding new connections among the problem elements, but these connections can only be made by manipulating a mental representation of the problem. Creative cognition outside the psychologist’s laboratory involves a great deal of interaction with the world. In contrast to second-order problem-solving, first-order problem-solving characterizes activities of embodied agents as they interact and manipulate the world around them. Creativity and insight emerge through a transactional process of transformation: physical features cue actions that change both the reasoner and the physical environment in which he or she is embedded. Insightful new possibles are realized through an active and mutually transforming exploration of the problem-solving environment. We discuss insight as an enacted process, involving action and perception. As a physical and perceptual activity, a degree of serendipity is inevitable, and, in some circumstances, insight becomes outsight. We identify eight key features of first-order creative cognition that map out a new program of research on insight.

In: The Palgrave Encyclopedia of the Possible. Palgrave Macmillan.
Gaëlle Vallée-Tourangeau
Gaëlle Vallée-Tourangeau
Professor of Behavioural Science

My research focuses on understanding how people handle risk and uncertainty. How they perceive and communicate risks, how they make decisions in the face of uncertainty.