Folk cognitive psychology has it that doing activities that remove you from your intellectual work (such as taking a shower or, like Einstein is reported to have done when it a rut, playing the violin) increases your chances of having unexpected insights. Is there a name for this phenomenon and a dedicated scientific literature for it?


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That moment is often called the "aha moment", the Eureka effect, or more generally, insight. There is literature on it, but as you might expect, it is a pretty difficult thing to produce in a lab.

Some references: The AHA! experience: Creativity through emergent binding in neural networks. Thagard, Paul; Stewart, Terrence C.. Cognitive Science35.1 (Jan-Feb 2011): 1-33.

Gaining insight into the "aha" experience. Topolinski, Sascha Reber, Rolf. Current Directions in Psychological Science19.6(Dec 2010): 402-405.

The aha! Moment: The cognitive neuroscience of insight. Kounios, John; Beeman, Mark. Current Directions in Psychological Science18.4(Aug 2009): 210-216.

Neural correlates of the “aha” experiences: Evidence from an fMRI study of insight problem solving. Qiu, JiangView Profile; Li, Hong; Jou, JerwenView Profile; Liu, Jia; Luo, Yuejia; et al. Cortex: A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior46.3 (Mar 2010): 397-403.


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