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The Power of Unconscious Thought: Does It Result in Creative Problem-Solving?

Human_brain_neuron_2 No doubt many of us have all experienced a situation where, after long hours of trying to solve a certain problem, we give up, and go get a break, only to come back and solve the problem within moments. This appears to be a somewhat commonplace situation. However, the science behind it is much more complex.

According to the authors of the study – Professor Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management, Chen-Bo Zhong from the University of Toronto and Ap Dijkstererhuis of Radboud University Nijmegen – unconscious thought results in creative problem-solving in a two step process.

But this is not as simple as having an “Aha!” moment and moving on. The trio note that while the distraction might be helpful in coming up with the solution, a period of steady thought must follow so as to understand the solution and how those solutions can be applied. Similarly, while such moments might be useful in dealing with particularly tricky problems, easier problems should be confronted the old fashion way.

The researchers conducted two experiments to test their idea. In the first experiment, 94 subjects participated in a Remote-Association Test (RAT), which tests for creativity. In this test, participants were presented with three words (a triad) and were asked to come up with a fourth word that is linked with all three words. For example, if presented with the words cheese, sky and ocean, the correct answer would be blue (blue cheese, blue sky, blue ocean).

Subjects were shown nine very difficult triads (but were instructed not to solve them yet) and were then divided into groups. For five minutes following the RAT, participants were either concentrating on the triads they had just seen (the conscious thought group) or engaging in a test completely unrelated to the RAT (the unconscious thought group).

Following the five-minute interval, all of the subjects participated in a lexical decision test. During this test, subjects were shown sequences of letters and had to indicate as quickly as possible if the sequences were English words or not. The sequences presented included answers to the RAT triads, random words and non-words. Finally, subjects were again shown the RAT items and had to write down their answers.

The second experiment involved 36 subjects and had a similar set up to the previous experiment, although the RAT triads presented were much easier to solve compared to those in the first experiment.

The results pointed to members of the unconscious thought group in the lexical decision test as having much faster responses to the letter sequences. The RAT problems however saw both groups poll equally well.

"Conscious thought is better at making linear, analytic decisions, but unconscious thought is especially effective at solving complex problems," said Galinsky and his co-authors. "Unconscious activation may provide inspirational sparks underlying the 'Aha!' moment that eventually leads to important discoveries."

Posted by Josh Hill.

Adapted from Association for Psychological Science Press Release


Is it in the brain cells or something else?

In fact, there is an insightful book dealing with the power of unconscious : websites:-


It's a common, I think that you insist in remembering an image or process for 2 or 3 minutes, then you "start" the mind and then forget about it, later the image appears as a vivid image in your toughts, that's different to, I think, invent the memories talking as "I remember the sock was white", those are two ways to remember but the image in the last one is subconscious in all the way.

I believe that heuristics that is the way related to creativity and difficult problem solving and that is NOT reacheable by machines CANNOT be put under simple and naive tests...whoever famous institute or huniversity makes them.

Heuristic processes are human brain way of correlating to unanderstanded and unsolved reality...abstract in general...but relational anyway.

This is the hard unsolvable problem for A.I. researchers....and I DO NOT believe any test can prove of deny this and that theory ....sorry for the Toronto researchers...they have proven nothing about heuristic creativity in human beings or difficult unconscious problem solving....that in fact it is believed to relate to that.

NO statistics apply to heuristic a special way of cortical neuron interconnection basically UNKNOWN.

Nothing to do with spoken natural languages.


Brilliant and insightful article! Kudos to you my friend keep it up


Wow, I think you hit the nail on the hed dude.

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I'm a programmer and this is exactly how I solve complex problems which I've been trying to solve for several hours.

Great to know that there's actually a scientific explanation behind it.

Another way to solve complex problems is have a collaborative approach to it . Let the people across the world from different business functions share the idea . The classic brainstorming often still works . Check the online version of brainstorming which promises to solve the complex problems of business at

The " mechanics " of unconscious thought can be dissected, but the unconscious mind CANNOT be truly quantified, weighed, scanned, measured or completely likened or reduced to a computer program or series of algorithms.

This quality separates us " meat machines " from man -made computers & future robots.

Good day!
It is very informative and has a very good quality in it.
I like it...

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