Scientists are starting to figure out why our brains go 'Aha!' – and the answer could be in our eyes
We all struggle with solving problems, but there’s no better feeling than the moment your brain suddenly clicks and everything falls into place. That euphoric “Eureka!” moment is often the result of your brain filtering through ideas subconsciously, and seems to come from absolutely nowhere. But imagine if we knew exactly how to reach that mental climax with ease?
Researchers from Ohio State University recently published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looking into “epiphany learning” to see if they could discover the secret to the eureka phenomenon, and whether they were able to anticipate its arrival.
Their experiment focused on participants playing a game, where each player picked a number from zero to 10, and the winner was whoever’s number was closest to the average of their two selected numbers, multiplied by 0.9. The sneaky part was that the players didn’t know the criteria to win. They had to figure it out for themselves.
The trick to the game is to pick zero, because you’re guaranteed to at least draw. Previous research has found that most people aren’t aware of this strategy when they start playing, but gradually come to realise it – allowing the researchers to witness eureka moments in real-time. Not quite Jack Bauer, but still pretty exciting.
The researchers studied participants’ eye movements as they played, and found that when making their decision, participants looked at the zero more often than other numbers, even if they didn’t pick it. They also found those who were figuring out the solution spent more time focused on the outcome of each game rather than on what their opponent was doing. The study authors suggest the research shows how “it is better to think about a problem than to simply follow others”.
Scientists may not have found the formula to making your eureka moment happen just yet, but lightbulbs are definitely flickering above their heads.
The next time you’re worried your ideas are too off the wall, remember it could be thinking “outside the box” that lets you understand the bigger picture. You could be seconds away from an epiphany, just like the original eureka-shouter Archimedes, who ran home naked through the streets. Just try not to get arrested for public indecency.