Brain Scans Reveal Bursts Of High Frequency Oscillations During Moments Of Insight

While the present day scientific study of insight has existed because the 1950s, only in the last 10 years have the powerful tools of cognitive neuroscience been put on the problem. Tools like the electroencephalogram (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) are being used to unravel the neural mechanisms that underlie creative insights.

Studying how insight comes up in the mind is challenging, but NSF-funded cognitive neuroscientist John Kounios and his colleague Mark Beeman developed an activity that allows them to study insight in the laboratory. Volunteers were asked to resolve a large number of phrase puzzles while their brains were scanned with fMRI or EEG. SILENT can be an anagram). Subjects pressed a button the moment they became aware of the perfect solution is to the anagram and reported whether the solution came super fast of understanding or through a far more deliberate strategy.

For puzzles that were solved with understanding, the researchers observed a unique pattern of neural activity. In addition to this finding, the burst of high regularity activity was preceded by something quite unexpected. About one . 5 seconds before the subject pressed the button, the EEG in the right visual cortex began to oscillate at an extremely low frequency, which is thought to reflect a suppression of neural processing. Why would activity in the visible cortex be suppressed before a flash of insight? Kounios suggests it could reveal a reduction of visual inputs, perhaps facilitating creativity.

The same effect on the EEG can be … Read more