Everybody loves those rare “aha moments” where you suddenly and unexpectedly solve a difficult problem or understand something that had previously perplexed you. But until now, researchers had not had a good way to study how people actually experienced what is called “epiphany learning.”
TDAI affiliate Ian Krajbich, assistant professor of psychology and economics, used eye-tracking and pupil dilation technology to see what happens as people figured out how to win a strategy game on a computer. He conducted the study with James Wei Chen, a doctoral student in economics at Ohio State, and their results were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We could see our study participants figuring out the solution through their eye movements as they considered their options,” Krajbich said. “We could predict they were about to have an epiphany before they even knew it was coming.”
One key to epiphany learning is that it comes suddenly. Those who had the epiphanies also spent less time looking at their opponents’ choices and more time considering the result of each trial – whether they won or lost.
“One thing we can take away from this research is that it is better to think about a problem than to simply follow others,” Krajbich said. “Those who paid more attention to their opponents tended to learn the wrong lesson.”