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Front. Hum. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00072

Sleep does not promote solving classical insight problems and magic tricks

 Monika Schönauer1, Svenja Brodt1, Dorothee Pöhlchen1, 2, Anja Breßmer2,  Amory H. Danek3 and  Steffen Gais1*
  • 1Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, Universität Tübingen, Germany
  • 2Department of Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany
  • 3Experimental and Theoretical Psychology, Universität Heidelberg, Germany

During creative problem solving, initial solution attempts often fail because of self-imposed constraints that prevent us from thinking out of the box. In order to solve a problem successfully, the problem representation has to be restructured by combining elements of available knowledge in novel and creative ways. It has been suggested that sleep supports the reorganisation of memory representations, ultimately aiding problem solving. In this study, we systematically tested the effect of sleep and time on problem solving, using classical insight tasks and magic tricks. Solving these tasks explicitly requires a restructuring of the problem representation and may be accompanied by a subjective feeling of insight. In two sessions, 77 participants had to solve classical insight problems and magic tricks. The two sessions either occurred consecutively or were spaced three hours apart, with the time in between spent either sleeping or awake. We found that sleep affected neither general solution rates nor the number of solutions accompanied by sudden subjective insight. Our study thus adds to accumulating evidence that sleep does not provide an environment that facilitates the qualitative restructuring of memory representations and enables problem solving.

Keywords: Problem Solving, Sleep and memory, Information Processing, Insight, incubation

Received: 14 Dec 2017; Accepted: 09 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Matthew Tucker, School of Medicine Greenville, University of South Carolina, United States

Reviewed by:

Bjoern Rasch, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Michael K. Scullin, Baylor University, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Schönauer, Brodt, Pöhlchen, Breßmer, Danek and Gais. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Steffen Gais, Universität Tübingen, Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, Tübingen, Germany, steffen.gais@uni-tuebingen.de